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Uncertainty remains after referendum

Many Thais have their reasons to vote "Yes" for the 2007 constitution some see it as a shift of the gear towards the next election while others endorse it as part of the post-coup efforts to right the wrong things incurred during Thaksin regime. But whether it really ends there or a less polarized and less despotic political environment emerge after Sunday referendum, there remains a certain degree of uncertainty. Col Amnat Pooksrisuk, of the Royal Thai Army's War College, saidendorsement of the constitution was a significant and pre-requisite step for a return of democracy. "Whether (the 2007 constitution) is good or bad, people can amend it later. We need to restore a parliamentary system for we cannot sit alone being unrecognized or ignored by other people in the globalised world," said Col Amnat.

A house maid Saipin Inkham from Payao said she was quite relieved with this government and would tell her mother up North to vote "Yes". "When former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he would wipe out all the poor, my mother registered herself at the district to join the scheme, but it did not work out. The only policy that is good for our village if his determination to eliminate drugs. But I still don't know if he will return to Thailand and will cause any hiccups to our country," said the 29-year-old Saipin. Her last sentence is actually not unique, many still ask the very question. As a lot of clouds still loom large how to bring the ousted premier and his family to the justice on high-profile corruption cases that originated the 19 September coup.

It might be the first time that a coup d'etat could not clear political hurdles in one shot, said Ukrist Pathmanand, assistant director of Chulalongkorn University 's Institute of Asian Studies . The effects of Thaksin saga will still linger on a year or more while the army, which believed to find ways for a tighter grip of power, was still debating if not fighting for the top job, replacing the coup maker Number One who is stepping down next month, said Mr Ukrist. It was a different setting, but might bring the same end when things were unfolded after the upcoming election, which would come anyway, he said.

The 1991 coup by the 5th Class of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy led by Army Commander Suchinda Kraprayoon, Supreme Commander Sunthorn Kongsompong, and Airforce Commander Kaset Rojananil could deliver a perfect end to the pro-business but corruption-prone Chatchai Choonhavan government. The 19 September has yet to deliver anything near it. Perhaps a lesson from the previous coup might turn to be a nightmare, not for those staged the 19 September coup but for the Thais who were convinced that Thaksin family and his assets would be reined in. The National Peace Keeping Council set up a committee to investigate the Chatchai Cabinet for allegedly being "unusually rich", but the Supreme Court later ruled on the cases and called for the return of the assets, because the politicians' wealth had been unlawfully seized by the military junta and the investigative committee had worked without the oversight of a judicial entity.

The life extension of the Asset Scrutiny Committee and its affiliate Asset Examination Committee was therefore important and a clause in the constitution that implicitly said things initiated by the 19 September coup would be protected in the future, implying enquiries and following judicial steps that have been undertaking against Thaksin and his cronies as well, other observers noted. Mr Ukrist believed politics would not be static after the referendum since all the CNS retiring generals who will run in the upcoming election would have to sail through bad omen that their failed their predecessors before when they plunged themselves into the political ring under the banner of Sammakhitham Party.

Yet, there remains some hope among many others that although the military would gain upper hand in Thailand's political landscape within the next few years due to the 2007 constitution and other laws in the pipeline such as the Internal Security Bill, the uniformed officer could no longer do unpleasant things as hey want to. Legally, the context might be more rigid than after 6 October incident, but practically the Thai junta has to choose to prevail with some acceptance and recognition from the eyes of the international community.

And they have realized now and must continue to realize in the future to accommodate voices from outside otherwise they would not coil the idea to invite the European Union or other countries to observe the upcoming election. Now it depends on what terms and conditions are for those observers, the coup makers now do not want to be monitored or criticized for any "undemocratic" activities or action that might be applied or employed for the clear-cut loss of the People Power Party, or former Thai Rak Thai Party.

The tactics and measures which are now used for Sunday referendum to coerce people to vote for the constitution and not to voice their opposition publicly would likely be nastier when it comes to the next election. After all, the CNS and the Surayud government have to work harder to control the anti-junta sentiments, especially increasing among those who do not support Thaksin's return.

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