Thailand’s August Referendum is result of fear, hope, belief: academic

A Thai political expert has speculated that the junta’s charter draft will be enacted for only five years before being torn down again by another coup d’etat. Another expert said voters made their decision based on political purpose, instead of the draft’s content.
At a seminar on Thursday, 11 August 2016, lecturers from Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science discussed the 7 August referendum results and the future direction of Thailand under the junta-backed constitution. All lecturers agreed that the landslide victory in favour of the draft and the additional question, which shocked people across the country, was expected.

Reactionary movement against democracy 

Surachart Bamrungsuk, an expert in Thailand’s military, said that the landslide of ‘yes votes’ in the referendum was the result of counter movements against democratization in Thailand. Triggered since the 2006 coup, the movement has become strong in the past decade. 
Surachart coins the term MBA -- Military, Bureaucracy, and Authoritarianism -- for these reactionary forces. The trinity has fully controlled Thai politics under the junta regime so the landslide victory for the junta-backed draft charter was not a surprise.
Surachart proposed that the referendum results reflect ideas of voters related to future of Thai politics: fear, hope, and belief. Most of the ‘yes voters’ believed that approving the constitution was the best way to prevent the country from conflict and chaos. Some voted in favour as they feared that rejecting the draft would cause them trouble. And some approved the draft in the hope that they would enact revenge upon the military by winning in elections despite the undemocratic rules written by the junta.    

Fall of major political parties

Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, an expert in comparative politics, described the referendum phenomena as ‘50 shades of reason.’ She explained that there are a variety of reasons among the ‘yes voters’, as well as the ‘no voters’. But the most problematic issue is that most of the voters did not base their choices on the draft’s content. 
“The yes voters are those who might either love Gen Prayut, hate politicians, want political reform before elections, like the anti-corruption charter, want to see a stable politics, or they want the military to leave politics and hold an election as soon as possible,” Siripan explained. “For the no voters, they might either hate the junta, coup d'etat, the drafting process, the draft’s content, or the referendum process.”
The referendum results show that the two major political parties in Thailand, Pheu Thai and the Democrat Party, have lost their influence over the their supporters. Many voters voted against the stance of key leaders of their party, Siripan added. 
She further added that the junta’s total control of state’s apparatuses from the top to local level also played a big role in this referendum. The junta not only suppresses anti-draft charter voices, but it also selectively disseminated its own narratives such as ‘if the draft passed, the military will go away,’ and ‘if politics is stable, country’s economy will get better’.

Draft charter will have short life

Pornson Liengboonlertchai, an expert in constitutional law, said that people generally believe that a good constitution should be able to last as long as forever, such as the US constitution. But according to various studies, since the World War, constitutions of most countries have tended to have shorter lifetimes. 
“The lifespan of constitutions [in the post-World War era] is 10 to 12 years. That’s for the countries with a stable political regime. In countries with an unstable regime, the lifespan is much shorter,” Pornsan stated. 
Pornsan further explained that a prototype of constitutions generally has the longest lifetime and the more it is rewritten, the shorter lifetime it gets. In the case of Thailand, the prototype is the 1997 Constitution with a nine-year-long lifetime. The 2007 Constitution, modelled after the 1997 Constitution, lasted only seven years. The academic speculated that the current draft charter will last only five years. He also believes that it would be torn down again by another junta in about five years. 
Speakers of the seminar (from left to right) Pitch Pongsawat, Naruemon Thapchumphol, Thanapan Laiprakobsup, Pundit Chanrotkit, and Surachart Bamrungsuk


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