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Draft Dodging

The draft constitution proposed by the Constitutional Drafting Committee has now been disclosed to all sorts of people, with the exception of the vast majority of the citizenry who will be expected to live under it. 

All government agencies have been told to scrutinize the draft and send their recommendations for amendments, omissions and additions to the government.  However, this must be done without discussion, since discussing the draft charter is off limits (except for the good people in the National Reform Council, of course, since, as good people, they will instinctively know the difference between useful constructive comment and unproductive negative slagging off).

Political parties have also been sent copies, but with the junta’s ban on political gatherings, they cannot legally call meetings to discuss its contents.

These prohibitions on debate and commentary also apply to the media, especially its more undisciplined radical fringes such as what you are currently reading.  So I will be a good boy for once and not comment on what is in the draft constitution.

Instead I will discuss what is not in the constitution, relying on a careful scrutiny of the discarded notes found in the rubbish bins outside the CDC’s meeting rooms.  At least that’s what I was told by the scrap paper merchant who regularly provides this column with its greatest scoops.

One feature of the draft constitution that has been frequently mentioned is the proliferation of independent agencies to monitor the actions of government and parliament.  The number of commissions and councils will increase despite the decision to conflate the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Commission.  (This, by the way, is the first issue to galvanize the NHRC into a strenuous defence of rights – their own.)

Among the new institutions there will be a Reform Council and National Reform Strategy Commission, peopled by the same lot now in charge, to make sure that the next lot keep doing what this lot want them to do. A National Reconciliation Commission is tasked with bringing about reconciliation, such as reconciling this constitution with any concept of democracy. 

And mention should also be made of the National Virtues Council or National Morals Council or National Ethics Council, depending which choice of words the translators hope doesn’t sound too ludicrous.  But since negative carping is off limits, any further mention is impossible.

But there could have been more.  Lots and lots more, according to drafts thrown away by the charter drafters.  It seems that the charter narrowly escaped becoming a repository of pet peeves of the elite.

The closest also-ran seems to have been a Commission on Thainess, whose job would be to scrutinize the actions, attitudes and appearance of all members of the executive, legislature and judiciary for their conformity to the concept of Thainess.  Other versions would have included the media, all branches of government service and in one effort, everyone in Thailand excluding actual non-Thais.

A group of good people was to choose a selection committee of good people of known true and expert Thainess who would select commissioners of suitably qualified Thainess with the job of protecting Thainess from insidious foreign attack. 

However some CDC members, while declaring themselves to have unimpeachable Thainess, questioned whether the very existence of the Commission would not in fact make Thainess vulnerable to ignorant non-Thai scrutiny and ridicule. They pointed to the fact that no similar commissions existed on Singaporeanness, Sri Lankanness or Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesianness.  Other members said that this was itself proof of the unique nature of Thainess, while a third group castigated the first two groups for expressing divisiveness and disunity, traits that were decidedly not part of Thainess. 

Amid a welter of cat-calling and recrimination, the chair decided to halt any further discussion and call the whole thing off.  He noted that if anyone showed qualities of un-Thainess, the National Reconciliation Commission could deal with it by suspending their rights to vote, register as the owner a mobile phone or post on social media (i.e. punishment just short of the death penalty) until they were certified as having fully recovered their Thainess.

The idea of a National Trafficking Council with provisions for special Trafficking Courts also failed to make it into the constitution when it was discovered that its proponents thought that the US had reduced Thailand to Tier 3 because traffic rules were not being obeyed.  Their Council would solve this problem by criminalizing any attempt by pedestrians to impede traffic flow by using a pedestrian crossing, by legalizing the use of footpaths by motorcyclists and by exterminating any cyclists who strayed beyond specially designated routes that went nowhere; in other words, by making traffic laws conform to normal Thai behaviour.

Other casualties included a Critical and Creative Thinking Commission to encourage Thai students to think critically and creatively by making them chant at every morning assembly ‘We must think for ourselves’ (hence the Commission’s nickname, the ‘Monty Python Commission’). 

One perceived drawback of all these oversight institutions is that they are themselves subject to no oversight.  It was therefore proposed that there should be a Commission on Commissions for exactly this purpose.  The idea was, however, quickly dropped when the military members on the CDC pointed out that this was exactly the military’s role in Thai politics.

About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).



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