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Why the Thais are “losing their smile”

Updated On: Mar 13, 2007

Instead of heralding a new era of democratic empowerment, aspiration of a liberal media and hopes of being a free people, the drafting new constitution has already fuelled warnings for the people to prepare for a bleak political future.

The most recent Abac poll has shown that Thailand’s Gross Domestic Happiness Index for February has slipped again to “5.66 from 5.68 in January and 6.30 last September”.

Further unhappiness is set to ensue as the suspicions that the coup leaders in Council for National Security (CNS) are only concerned about retaining power have been cemented. Last Thursday, Prasong Soonsiri, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) voiced the “option of having an unelected prime minister”.

Thai academics have predicted that if the clause is included, the “draft charter [is] likely to be snubbed by the people”, the Nation reported. Associate professor of Thammasat University Anek Laothamatas has said,” Nowhere is there a plebiscite held for a constitution as no constitution can satisfy the demands of all sectors of society.” He also predicted “that at least 2 million people will vote against the constitution if it doesn't declare Buddhism as the national religion”. This view was reiterated by Assistant Professor Somchai Preechasilpakul. 

Associate Professor Ubonrat Siriyuwasak also warned the people “to get ready for whatever happens if the referendum fails” as “nothing has been done for the public good [through the coup], but rather for sharing benefits among people involved with the Council for National Security and the government”, the Nation noted. 

Already, General Somjet Boonthanom, head of the CNS Secretariat, was reported by the Nation as saying that an unelected prime minister was a good idea. He said, “This should be a good way out. The 1997 constitution provided no such exit and that led to a constitutional dead-end," the general said. "There were calls for a royally-appointed prime minister. And when there was really no way out, political changes by the military took place.”

CNS chairman Sonthi Boonyaratkalin has promptly refuted allegations that he also supported the “controversial idea of appointing an unelected prime minister”. He said “he had never raised the issue for discussion with any of the charter drafters and denied he had discussed the idea with CDC chairman Prasong Soonsiri [as] the job of writing the new charter should be entrusted exclusively to the CDC”. CDC member Kirkkiat Pipatseritham has also brushed off Prasong's comment as a joke, saying, “He may have wanted to relieve tension in the meeting.”

According to the Bangkok Post, whatever the case maybe on the draft constitution and unelected prime minister, the CDC has already decided that the “draft charter will give power to senior judges to appoint an interim prime minister in the absence of parliament, if it has been dissolved or reached the end of its term”. Deputy spokesman Pisit Leeahtam has said that “charter drafters [have] agreed that in the absence of a parliament, the presidents of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court and the Constitution Court will be tasked with naming a neutral person as interim prime minister”.

Casting new light on the tenuous drafting process, Thammasat University law lecturer Kittisak Prokati and a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee's subcommittee on rights and liberty told the Nation in an exclusive interview that “drafting [of the constitution] is based on the fear and suspicion of Thaksin's ghost”. He said that “it would be better if it was based on research about the future of the country… However, due to limited time no model has been produced and the problem [of drafting a new charter] is being sorted out in a dictatorial manner… and will become an anti-political, anti-business constitution but will recall [traditional] autocrats”. He added, “Most drafters come from the ranks of the elite and the high-level bureaucracy. Whether it will solve [national] problems is debatable… we need more [constitutional] theoretical debate.”

On an idealistic note, an opinion piece by Danish academic in the Bangkok Post is hopeful that the European Union (EU) is “exercising… soft power” and “keeping a close watch on what is going on in Thailand” so as to be able to lend a hand in democratic standards and human rights. He said that “rather than parochial, [the EU’s} real outlook is international… and when sufficiently provoked it will react”. However it would not “send in the marines” but use the “sophistication of silent tools of power” to effect change.   It is unsure what the Thai junta would make of an EU springing a stealth attack on human rights and democracy, given its adamant stance on trying to convince the world in the special dynamics of “Thai democracy”. (12 March 2007)

Sources:

Thais lose their smile (Nation, 12 March 2007)

Thailand’s image tarnished by truth (Bangkok Post, 11 March 2007)

CNS general backs law for unelected PM (Nation, 12 March 2007)

Sonthi denies influencing CDC (Bangkok Post, 12 March 2007)

CNS hit over office shambles (Nation, 12 March 2007)

'Thaksin's ghost haunts drafters' (Nation, 12 March 2007)

A giant step back to the past (Nation, 12 March 2007)

Judges could appoint PM if no House (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2007)

Rejection 'may usher in a Dark Age' (Nation, 10 March 2007)

Judges could appoint PM if no House (Bangkok Post, 10 March 2007)

New charter to bar Govt to rule after House dissolution (Nation, 10 March 2007)

Unelected PM clause has critics up in arms (Nation, 10 March 2007)

Malaysia Calls For Closer Ties With EU On Sustainability (Bernama, 9 March 2007)