It is now obvious that the military junta have no intention of conducting a clean and democratic referendum on their new constitution. While the government is shamelessly spending millions of the public's baht on propaganda urging the population to vote "yes" and accept the constitution, those who are opposed to it are prevented from campaigning properly by arrests, threats and a total lack of access in the media. The referendum cannot therefore be regarded as democratic, according to any international or Thai standards. Regardless of the outcome of this dirty referendum, the Peoples Movement must continue to campaign for real political reform, social justice and the building of a welfare state from progressive taxation.
It is necessary to remind ourselves that those in the Peoples Alliance for Democracy (P.A.D.) and those intellectuals and academics who welcomed the coup as the "only way to get rid of Thaksin's authoritarianism", used the excuse of a "dirty election" on the 2nd April 2007 to justify the coup and to justify collaborating with the junta. The present referendum is infinitely more dirty and undemocratic compared to the 2nd of April election, which was a kind of referendum on the Thaksin government. At that time we and many others were able to campaign openly for a "no" vote against Thaksin without any threats or hindrance. The press carried the views of those who opposed the government. Yet we hear no protests from the ex-members of the P.A.D. or from the pro-coup intellectuals about the way the junta's referendum is being conducted.
We would really prefer to boycott this undemocratic referendum. Yet, the current to boycott among the millions who oppose the junta's constitution is very small. Therefore we shall stand with the majority and urge people to vote "No". Never the less, if the referendum results in a "yes" majority, the outcome can have little legitimacy.
There are many reasons for voting against the junta's constitution apart from the fact that the whole drafting process was undemocratic, resulting from a coup and lacking any public participation. Despite the lies by junta supporters, the constitution decreases the democratic space while increasing the power of the unelected military, judiciary and bureaucracy. There has been no significant progress over the 1997 constitution on issues related to gender rights, community and ethnic rights, trade union rights and the issue of a free media. The constitution is even more neo-liberal and pro-market, increasing the role of big business, privatisation and forcing governments to cut public welfare spending, while increasing the military budget. Where it mentions welfare or health, the clauses are more backward than the existing system. Finally, there is no road to peace and justice for the South built into the constitution. None of this is surprising. The junta's drafters and their supporters are in no way interested in true political reform, democracy and social justice. There sole aim is to block the re-election of Thai Rak Thai and to decrease the democratic space because they do not think that the poor should have the right to vote. This is why they have ignored all the important proposals for political reform which many of us in the Peoples Movement have been discussing from long before the time of the coup.
The struggle for democracy, social justice and peace must continue. A "No" vote is only an important part of this struggle against dictatorial powers and injustice in Thailand.