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Referendum Voting Guide for Ultranationalists and Ethnic Minorities or Friends of Minorities

This impartial 2016 Constitution referendum voting guide, specifically designed for ultranationalists and ethnic minorities or friends or relatives of ethnic minorities, is brought to you by Special Circumstances.

Ethnic Minority-Related Issues in the Constitution

Ultranationalists will be happy that there is only one mention of ethnic minorities in the proposed 2016 Constitution. For ultranationalists, because everyone in Thailand is a Thai citizen, ethnic minorities are protected in the 2016 draft Constitution by Section 27, via a standard non-discrimination clause similar to that in many other constitutions:

Section 27 All persons are equal before the law and shall enjoy equal protection under the law. Men and women shall enjoy equal rights. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of the difference in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view that does not violate the provisions of this constitution, or any other ground shall be prohibited.

As this clause covers origin, race, and language, this should be good enough. However, ethnic minorities should note that the 2016 Constitution does not actually list or define any of its 65+ minorities or refer to any organic legislation or legislation that does. This is because the vast majority of ethnic minorities are not actually recognized in Thailand except in the form of cabinet resolutions, and even then only some of the mountain peoples.

For ultranationalists, the 2016 Constitution mainly adopts the status quo for referring to ethnic groups, i.e., references to them as ‘local people’. Section 43 actually allows people and communities to promote ‘local’ traditions:

Section 43 A person and a community shall enjoy the right; (1) to conserve, restore, or promote wisdom, art, culture, tradition and custom of good value in the locality and the nation…

Moreover, Section 57 mandates that the State should do likewise:

Section 57 The State shall; (1) conserve, restore and promote local wisdom, art, culture, tradition and custom of good value in the locality and the nation, and provide public space for the activities related thereto, and promote and support people, communities and local administration organizations to exercise their rights and participate in the implementation described herein,

For ultranationalists, these two sections are already progressive enough. However, people from ethnic minorities might be alarmed by the omission of ‘language’ from Section 43, as it is one of the main vectors for transmitting culture, and by the fact that Section 57 is very broad and does not involve specific measures or avenues for promoting local traditions, such as the formal education system. For ultranationalists, on the other hand, the 2016 Constitution may even be too ‘progressive’, as there is even a section promoting the ‘ethnic’ rights of groups (the only mention of ‘ethnic’) according to their “culture, custom and traditional ways of life”:

Section 70 The State shall promote and protect the rights of Thai people of different ethnic groups to live voluntarily and peacefully without disturbances in the society according to their culture, custom and traditional ways of life, in so far as such livelihood is not contrary to public order or good morals of people, or does not harm the security of the State or health.

Ultranationalists should, however, be very happy with the rider in this last section, as it allows the State to suppress any ethnic practices, which it can itself define in an arbitrary manner, which are seen as ‘Un-Thai’ in the form of being contrary to public order or good health. Ethnic minorities, on the other hand, may be somewhat alarmed by this lack of specificity, for example insofar as it applies to the one million+ Thai Malay.

This brief analysis allows us to introduce a voting matrix to help guide ultranationalists and ethnic minorities or friends/relatives of ethnic minorities in how to vote. One further crucial issue is that in 2011 Thailand actually recognised over 60 of its ethnic minorities to the international community in a Country Report to the UN Committee responsible for the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). However, Thailand did not tell these minorities at the time that they were being recognised, nor has it subsequently passed any legislation recognising them. In addition, it promised in 2012 in its meeting with the UN to pass domestic legislation against racial discrimination, but it has not done so. This is despite increased racism in Thailand. Ultranationalists may be happy with this lack of progress, while members of ethnic minorities may feel urgent action, enshrined in the constitution, is required due to Thailand’s publicly stated commitments on this issue.

The guide also therefore includes additional issues arising from other sections (or lack of sections) of the draft Constitution of interest to ultranationalists and members of ethnic communities, namely appointed governors, the appointed senate, the issue of a national language policy, Thailand’s promise to introduce anti-racial discrimination legislation, recognition of ethnic communities, specifically combating educational differences along ethnic lines, specifically combating health differences along ethnic lines, and specifically combating socio-psychological issues along ethnic lines. The result is the following 12-point guide. Admittedly, the thinking involved is somewhat categorical, but unfortunately a referendum is, by nature, categorical.

 

Table: Impartial Voting Guide on Ethnic Minority-Related Issues

 

Statement

Agree?

Disagree?

1

The standard non-discrimination clause in Section 27 of the Constitution is good enough. Defining or listing of ethnic communities either in the Constitution in an annex or via organic legislation is not needed.

Vote Yes

Vote No

2

Section 43 is good enough as anyone has the right to promote local wisdom, etc. Language should not be specifically mentioned.

Vote Yes

Vote No

3

Section 57 is good enough as the State will promote local wisdom etc. There is no need to specify that formal education should incorporate local wisdom or teach the mother tongue, even as a subject.

Vote Yes

Vote No

4

Section 70 is the only mention of ethnic groups needed and allows ethnic communities to live traditional lives, provided that they do not have ‘Un-Thai’ ways of life, which will be defined by the State. Specificity, for example in the case of the Thai Malay, is not required.

Vote Yes

Vote No

5

Only Central Thais should have the right to local democracy at the governorship level, via the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. Ethnic minorities in other provinces do not have the democratic right to elect their own governors. Political exclusion of ethnic minorities on this issue is a good idea.

Vote Yes

Vote No

6

Appointments to the Senate should not reflect any ethnic makeup of the country, unlike in Myanmar, at the regional and national levels. Instead, they should reflect who controls power in the country.

Vote Yes

Vote No

7

There is no need to stipulate a National Language Policy in the 2016 Constitution, not even to state that Thai should be the national language. Regional languages are only dialects and are unfit to survive, as are local languages, except as songs for tourists to listen to. Dual language educational programs should not be developed and do not need any mention in the Constitution.

Vote Yes

Vote No

8

There is no need to stipulate any domestic racial discrimination legislation in organic legislation associated with the 2016 Constitution, despite Thailand having no local anti-racial discrimination legislation, though it has promised such legislation based on its signing of the UN convention on racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is not serious enough to need such legislation specified in the Constitution. It is acceptable to make statements to the UN and then ignore those commitments.

Vote Yes

Vote No

9

Ethnic communities do not need recognition in the 2016 Constitution or related organic legislation. It is acceptable to recognize ethnic communities, including the Thai Lao, the Thai Malay, and the Northern Khmer, in a Country Report to the UN and then not recognise them in domestic legislation. This is not hypocritical.

Vote Yes

Vote No

10

National resources should not be prioritized via the 2016 Constitution to address systematic educational imbalances along racial lines, as revealed by provincial ONET scores, which show Thai Malay children have the lowest scores in the country, followed by Thai Lao children. Social exclusion of ethnic minorities is normal or is not serious enough to need addressing in the Constitution.

Vote Yes

Vote No

11

National resources should not be prioritized via the 2016 Constitution to address systematic health imbalances along racial lines, as revealed by Unicef/WHO/Thai national surveys, which indicate, for example, above average stunting and wasting in ethnic minority children in the Northeast. Economic exclusion of ethnic minorities is normal or is not serious enough to need addressing in the Constitution.

Vote Yes

Vote No

12

National resources should not be prioritized via the 2016 Constitution to address systematic social imbalances along racial lines, for example the need for the National Human Rights Commission to counter systematic social exclusion  of racial minorities, for example the issue of the ‘Na Lao’ (Lao face) in Thai adverts and soap operas. Social exclusion of ethnic minorities is normal or is not serious enough to need addressing in the Constitution.

Vote Yes

Vote No