Confession of ‘Yes’ voters in Thailand’s referendum

People from various backgrounds who voted ‘yes’ in last Sunday’s referendum revealed to Prachatai that they want the country to move “forwards” even though they have read very little, if anything, of the actual draft. 

The charter draft referendum ended in a landslide in favour of both questions, stunning people across and outside the country. Politicians, student activists, and civil society, who repeatedly showed their objections to the draft, have expressed their surprise and distress caused by the results. 
“I must say it’s pretty much unexpected. I admit that I underestimated the power of this unfair referendum. The one-sided instructions and the suppression of discussion has made people unable to receive enough information,” Chaturon Chaisang, an embattled Pheu Thai politicians, posted on his Facebook page.
So the question remains -- why did a majority of Thais vote to make their country less democratic? Instead of talking to experts and academics to find the answer, Prachatai took an alternative route by talking to five “Yes Voters” about their personal judgement at the polling booth last Sunday. Most of them conceded that they had not read the entire draft yet but they voted in order to “push forwards” the country.
Rangsiman Rome, a pro-democracy activist from New Democracy Movement, cries after the landslide victory for 'Yes Votes' (source: Nation TV)

I don’t know much about politics, I just want elections

Tu (pseudonym), a 21-year-old engineering masters student, told Prachatai that he voted ‘yes’ for the junta-backed charter as he assumed that the junta would draft another one itself again if this draft was rejected, which he sees it as a waste of time. 
“I haven’t received much information. I just thought that if the draft was rejected, the junta would draft a new one again and again and everything would be the same,” said Tu, adding that he did not read the draft or any other material before going to vote last Sunday. 
However, he voted against the additional question, which gives the 250 junta-appointed senators the power to jointly vote for PM with the House of Representatives. 
“I heard that if the question passed, the junta-appointed senate will be able to vote for the PM, which is quite odd to me. What if they selected Gen Prayut to run the country again? I am not into politics that much but I just think that he, as an unelected PM, has been in power for too long,” Tu stated. “I just want elections and an elected government so the country can move forwards. Now we are standing still.”

Democracy is flawed so I voted ‘Yes’

Theeraphat T, a 60-year-old merchant, told Prachatai his reasons for approving both questions. He says he does not believe that democracy is the best system in the world. In fact, it has caused many problems that many countries are facing nowadays.     
“I accepted both questions because I feel that the democratic system throughout the world is problematic. Elections are flawed because the winners are probably not the best,” said Theeraphat. “People who run in elections are those who normally have the money and are good at talking. But are they truly capable and smart? We don’t know.”
He added that he wanted to see an alternative to democracy and the political structure under the draft charter, which is a combination of elected and appointed people, is what he is looking for.
“There must be a process to select [politicians] which does not necessarily have to be through election, but similar to the way court judges and police officers are selected, not elected, but we can rely on them,” Theeraphat explained.
Asked what he wants the junta to do in the near future, he said he wants an election to be held within 2017, just as the junta stated in their roadmap. However, if necessary, he thinks it is justifiable for the junta to postpone the election even further. 
“It depends on the country’s situation. If the political situation is not yet appropriate, it can be postponed. It’s like when you have to go out to do business, but you have diarrhoea. Then you should go tomorrow,” according to Theeraphat’s analogy. 

I want peace and order so I voted ‘yes’ without reading the draft charter

Taweechai K, a 63-year-old retired engineer, said that he approved both questions because he wants to have a constitution as soon as possible and “I don’t want to waste time drafting a new one”. 
“After the charter is done, we can do other important things. Or else we have to move back and forth like this,” Taweechai said.
Taweechai added that he never read the full draft since he never received it so he based his judgement on news from TV and the internet. He also saw the climate of discussion during the pre-referendum period as chaos which he wants to eliminate by passing the constitution.    
“What I’ve seen is mostly chaos. One side keeps supporting the draft while another keeps condemning it. As the referendum drew closer, the climate of conflict was very intense. But after the “Yes Vote” won, everything is silent. What if it was rejected? We would have to draft a new one and the conflict would continue,” Taweechai stated.

I like the junta administration so I voted ‘yes’

Many ‘Yes’ voters revealed to Prachatai that they approved the draft charter just because they like the junta administration, regardless of the content of the draft. Arm (pseudonym), a 27-year-old broker who voted ‘Yes’ for both questions, said that he liked the overall work of the NCPO since he felt that the country is more peaceful compared to the period before the junta staged the coup in 2014, adding that the junta has boosted the country’s economy fairly well. 
“As I work in financial sector, I have to closely follow the economic situation and found that the country’s economy, as well as the stock market, is gradually getting better. Everything it has done is tangible,” Arm said. “I didn’t read the whole draft but just summaries. I can’t remember where they came from but they were more comprehensible. The documents said the draft gives a lot of privileges to the people.”
He also hoped that the junta would strictly follow the country’s roadmap to move the country into a better situation.
“From now on, I want to see the country step forward to a better place. The government must not be corrupt and keep its promise. Don’t just talk the talk but never walk the walk.”

I hate corruption so I favour the draft charter

While most ‘yes’ voters did not apparently consider the content of the draft as a major concern in the referendum, some of them did take it as the biggest factor in their judgment. Nat (surname withheld), a 44-year-old IT company executive, told Prachatai that the main reason she voted in favour of the junta’s draft is that it will seriously eliminate corruption from Thailand’s politics. 
“I like Articles 235, 125 and 98. I can’t remember the exact wordings but they will prohibit politicians who have ever been guilty of corruption from running in an election. I see these articles as concrete and solid efforts to eliminate corruption,” Nat said.
She admitted to Prachatai that she has not read the entire draft yet but she believes what her guru told her. 
“I have a relative, who is a legal expert working in the justice system, as my guru. He told me that this draft is better than the previous charter in term of eliminating corruption,” Nat stated. “I didn’t read the entire draft but I just focussed on hot issues. I’ve received some materials but my judgment was mostly based on my guru’s comments.” 


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