NGOs, media, activists, politicians gather to open people’s ‘Prachamati’

With uncertainty about whether the Thai junta will hold a public referendum on the new charter draft or impose it without public consent, alternative media outlets and think tanks in Thailand came together on 8 May 2015 to officially open an online forum to let people speak their minds about the draft constitution which is currently being debated in the junta’s National Reform Council (NRC).

About 100 civil organisation workers, members of the media, activists, politicians, and others joined the event on Friday afternoon to open a new website called ‘Prachamati’ (referendum), an online forum which will summarise controversial content in the draft constitution and allow people to vote whether they agree or disagree with it.

The website was founded with the cooperation of Prachatai and Thaipublica, alternative media agencies, iLaw, an internet platform promoting civil laws related to freedom of expression, and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies of Mahidol University. Prachamati was opened to collect votes over the charter draft on Monday.

At the event, Jon Ungpakorn, the founder of Prachatai, and Sarinee Achavanuntakul, the co-founder of Thaipublica, who are the masterminds of Prachamati, together with Chaturon Chaisang, a former Education Minister of Pheu Thai Party, Charnvit Kasetsiri, a renowned political scientist from Thammasat University, Sureerat Treemanka, the president of the Foundation for Community Educational Media (FCEM), and Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Prachatai’s director, spoke on the importance for people to voice their opinions on the new charter.

Jon, who first came up with the website, said that once the new constitution is implemented, it will be difficult to amend because the constitution itself was structured to deter attempts to amend it. Therefore, Prachamati was founded to let people take the matter into their own hands.

“The Prachamati website was established with the idea that if they [the junta] will not hold a public referendum [on the new charter], we will do it ourselves [on the website]” said Jon.

He added that in the first stage he expected at least 5,000 votes on each topic of the new charter posted on Prachamati.

Sarinee stated that the website will become a forum to collect the ideas of individuals which already exist online.

“Everybody already expresses their ideas online, this website [Prachamati] will effectively collect these ideas and make them more powerful,” said the co-founder of Thaipublica.

Chaturon pointed out at the event that the current draft constitution will not solve Thailand’s political conundrum and will only make it worse by shutting down political channels from the people.

“The authorities said that any amendment to the new constitution will be banned for the next five years. Until then, who knows how many coups we are going to have because it [the current draft] does not offer solutions to Thai politics” said Chaturon. “The referendum on the draft will make it less dictatorial because people will discuss it more and the drafters of the new charter have to reflect on the people’s voice to amend the draft.”

Bantoon Setthasiroj, a member of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), who also came to speak at the event, said that a referendum on the draft charter is important because people should be the ones who determine it.

“It is not right to just let 36 people draft state policies and laws because they are not the true representatives of the state, which are all the people. Therefore, the referendum is important,” Bantoon stated.   

The first question on Prachamati is: Do you agree or disagree that there must be a public referendum on the draft constitution?

Other questions include whether you agree or disagree with civil duties, the establishment of a National Moral Assembly, the proposed way for senators to be appointed, and the fact that the Prime Minister does not need to be a member of parliament, which are all provisions of the draft charter.

According to Prachamati, the draft constitution will be considered by the NRC for the next 30 days before being sent back to the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), who will be given 60 days to make amendments to the draft in accordance to the NRC’s suggestions.

In recent weeks, many academics and civil society members have urged the junta to hold a public referendum on the draft charter before it is promulgated. The authorities, however, claim that holding a referendum is not effective in surveying public opinion, is costly, and may further delay national elections.