The junta’s referendum and legitimacy

10 07 2016

There has been almost no real discussion of the military’s long, complicated and fundamentally anti-democratic charter. That draft charter goes to a junta-managed and mangled referendum within a month.

The Bangkok Post has an editorial that is a call for discussion and debate that would grant a modicum of legitimacy to the referendum. It essentially pleads with the junta to allow some debate:

It is now less than a month away before Thai citizens vote on the draft charter on Aug 7. The proximity of the date, the little time that remains and serious implications that the vote will carry for Thai politics in the future demand a more open discussion not just about what the draft says but what its rules will entail for the Thai public. Hearty debates about the draft’s 279 sections covering such crucial areas as the rights and liberties of Thais, the duties of Thai people or guidelines on public policies must be allowed to take place.

It argues that the “National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) [the junta], government [the junta + a couple of friends] and Election Commission (EC) must stop creating areas of ambivalence where they can use other laws or orders to stymie the activities.”

The editorial’s vision is for:

A free and fair exchange of opinions must be stipulated while an atmosphere of trust in which people can discuss and debate the merits or lack thereof of the draft charter liberally and exhaustively must be established.

By its very nature – it is a dictatorship – the military junta can’t abide debate.

NOThe Post is right that debate and discussion is required for “informed choices” and a “necessity for the result of the vote to be accepted both by the people of Thailand and members of the international community.”

The Post is also right to point to political repression and “a climate of fear” that has prevented “an open, vigorous and extensive examination of the draft charter…”. They might have added that the military regime allows no political debate on almost everything, and not just the charter.

This draft charter has been crafted by the junta, with no debate or public input. The referendum on the charter – always ridiculous by asking people for a yes/no decision on such a complicated document – is seen by the junta as a win-win event. If there is a Yes vote, then it has a “mandate.” If there is a No vote, the junta stays in place and comes up with something else as a basic law that suits it.

The Post reflects a broader view that the “recent arrest of student activists who distributed leaflets to people in Samut Prakan apparently in a peaceful manner as they campaigned for voters to reject the draft charter being viewed as being undemocratic” were not doing anything illegal. (PPT will have more on this an a post later today.)

The Post is right that the arrest of New Democracy students was a dictatorial act.

The Post concludes that “[i]f the government [they mean the junta] wants the referendum to be well-respected, it must strive to uphold the principle of free exchange of opinion as stipulated in the public referendum act both in letter and in spirit.”

This is spitting into the wind. The junta does not respect any views other than their own addled perceptions. It does not “strive to uphold the principle of free exchange of opinion.” Indeed, over two years and more, the junta repressed free expression as one of its central mission.

In our view, only a No vote will carry any legitimacy. This is because a Yes vote would result from coercion, the repression the Post writes of, the lack of debate and the junta’s management of the mangled process.

A No vote would be a brave response to the junta’s repression.

We recognize that a No vote would leave the junta in place. That would be no different from a Yes vote. However, a Yes vote would establish the junta’s basic law and would be treated as a mandate for the royalist brutes who have crushed dissent and destroyed electoral democracy.