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A sure win for the Thai authorities in the upcoming referendum?

Updated On: Aug 14, 2007

This week is surely a tense one for the Thai authorities as they prepare for the 13th referendum in Thai history this Sunday (19 August).  

To boost up support for the draft constitution, the Thai Prime Minister, General Surayud Chulanont led several thousand people comprising government officials and high school students on a march on Monday (13 Aug) and made an appeal for people to “come out to vote”.

The past year has been a tough struggle between the junta and the ousted Thai Rak Thai and other opponents of the coup as Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin and his generals sought approval and legitimacy for their actions from the Thai public. In the past week, Sonthi has exhorted Thais to go to the polls as the referendum is the first step towards restoring the democracy they have been clamouring for. 

Despite their worries about the referendum, the authorities have been putting on a brave front. Amid rumours of bribery to oppose the draft constitution in the TRT strongholds in the Northeast, Prime Minister Gen. Surayud Chulanont said he believed that the majority of the population would still turn up to perform their duty and support the draft charter. He also added that “if more than half the eligible voters exercise rights, it could be considered that the outcome of the referendum must be respected”.

The alleged “mastermind” of the coup, Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda also came out to say that he “believed a large number of eligible voters will go out and vote” as the government and private sectors had put up a very good campaign for the draft charter.

On the whole, the Thai authorities seem to be confident of a win. Previous polls have indicated that the people will go out to support the draft charter. Moreover, one of the strongest opposition to the charter –the Buddhist faction –has desisted from its campaign after Her Majesty the Queen said in her 75th birthday address “that Buddhism should be free of politics and kept out of the new charter”. Added to all this is the threat of tough action against those who plot to upset the referendum. Interior minister Aree Wong-Arya has warned that such people will “be severely punished if there is proof against them”. Investigations are currently being carried out to nab the trouble-makers.

It is uncertain what form the Thai polity will take after the referendum and proposed elections. Prem has reserved comment on the direction Thailand is headed for as that depended on the result of the referendum while Sonthi continues to play the cat-and-mouse game about his retirement plans from the army. It is widely anticipated Sonthi will join politics. Gen. Panlop Pinmanee, adviser to the director of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), revealed that Sonthi has an inclination toward the Rak Chart party –a party that Panlop himself will join to contest the election in Dusit district as it houses several military units. Sonthi is unperturbed by opposition to any of his political desires, saying boldly, “There's nothing to be afraid of. I even staged a coup.” (14 August 2007)

Sources:

Thousands march with Thai PM to back draft constitution (Straits Times, 14 August 2007)

Interior Minister: "You've been warned" (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Democrats: Corruption rife in Northeast (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Officials probing bribery charges on public referendum (TNA, 13 August 2007)

Prem is confident of high turnout (Bangkok Post, 10 August 2007)

Activists quit state religion campaign (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Global trend points to 'yes' vote at Sunday's constitutional poll (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Opponents of charter 'buy votes' (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Thai Rak Thai group denies claims as Buddhists end protests over draft (Bangkok Post, 13 August 2007)

Charter's military-related articles still raise questions (Nation, 13 August 2007)

Sonthi still coy on intentions after he retires (Bangkok Post, 11 August 2007)

Poll: Majority likely to accept draft charter (Bangkok Post, 11 August 2007)

Thai PM believes bribery won't affect votes on draft charter (TNA, 11 August 2007)

Democrat not mind if Sonthi plays politics (Nation, 9 August 2007)