Calm or chaos - charter vote will decide

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am

How events unfold in Thailand over the next few months will be determined largely by the outcome of its first national referendum on August 19, analysts believe.

If Thais accept the controversial draft constitution prepared under the watch of the military junta, a relatively smooth run-up to elections is expected, paving the way for a return to democratic and civilian rule.

If they say no - as prominent lawyers, activists and the pro-Thaksin camp say they should - an already murky political environment looks set to get even more confusing.

The military-installed government recently insisted that elections - a key promise of the coup to oust Thaksin Shinawatra last September - would still be held. But precisely how and under what legal authority remains far from clear.

About 20 million copies of the 90-page draft charter have been sent to households across the country. It contains provisions that stand to increase the checks and balances on an elected government, therefore weakening it.

Nearly half the Senate - a key oversight body - would be appointed, not elected. A prime minister would be limited to eight years in office and his family barred from holding stakes in private companies.

Impeachment and no-confidence motions would also be easier. Voters could force impeachment proceedings through petitions.

Significantly, it would ensure an amnesty for the generals who staged the bloodless coup.

Widely seen as an anti-Thaksin document, it seeks to ensure that no leader or party would be able to repeat the excesses of the billionaire tycoon's six-year rule. His opponents insisted that his reach extended to supposedly independent bodies of state, including the Senate and the taxation authorities.

Political insiders believe the charter will almost certainly re-introduce the shaky coalition governments of the past. The document it replaces was hailed at its 1997 inception for ushering in an era of strong party rule minus the money-go-round politics of the past.

'No constitution could have predicted a Thaksin,' one Democrat Party official said this week.

'The new draft also has flaws, but we're prepared to accept those and just want to push ahead with elections.'

A range of opinion polls suggest the new charter will be approved.