Thailand’s new constitution a step towards restoring democracy
If there is to be an end to the chaos of the past decade, elites and leaders have to be willing to listen to diverse opinions so that reform can be openly discussed and an accountable government elected
Thais have backed the ruling military’s desire that the nation have a new constitution. In doing so, they have put their trust in junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha’s pledge to bring back democracy. He has spoken of a road map and elections, but without giving any timetable; with the document guaranteeing the generals power and oversight, they can take whatever steps they like. But the referendum was about moving politically forward, not stagnation, so the democratic governance Thailand needs to thrive and prosper has to be quickly returned.
The referendum gave a stark choice: to legitimise military governance under the National Council for Peace and Order, which the generals established after they overthrew the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, or continue rule under which freedoms were tightly restricted. Thais were not able to openly discuss the draft constitution in anything but a positive manner and scores who dared to criticise were arrested. Approval gives the military and the establishment authority to rule through an unelected senate, a weakened lower house, a judiciary with authority to intervene in politics and a prime minister who does not have to be a member of parliament.
A telling sign is that since the end of the monarchy’s absolute rule in 1932, Thailand has had 20 constitutions and 13 coups. Thais were given a taste of democracy between 1992 and 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was removed by the military on the pretext of corruption. The Shinawatras, through policies supporting the majority rural poor, won every election they contested, which riled royalists and other elites.
Thailand’s economy suffers each time the military takes power; coups guarantee wealth and privilege stays in the hands of the few. But Thais have experienced the benefits of democracy and Sunday’s vote offers hope of a restoration. If there is to be an end to the chaos of the past decade, elites and leaders have to be willing to listen to diverse opinions so that reform can be openly discussed and an accountable government elected.