Thailand’s post-coup constitution: Familiar faces, uncharted territory

Originally published at Siam Voices on November 5, 2014

Thailand nominates committee to draft its new constitution, but can the next charter bridge the nation’s fractious political divides?

Last week we looked at the Thai military junta’s attempts to ‘reform’ the political system by highlighting the role of the National Reform Council (NRC), a 150-strong body tasked with making reform recommendations covering a wide rage of issues including political, administrative, social, economic and other areas. It also plays an essential role in forming the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) by appointing most of its members (20) and, more importantly, approving the draft for the new constitution after a process taking several months (we have also explained a possible loophole to indefinitely restart the process).

This week, we look more closely at the Constitutional Drafting Committee, now that all 36 members have been nominated, and what exactly it is being tasked with.

While the NRC was debating whether or not to include people from outside, (namely former political stakeholders such as members from the ousted ruling Pheu Thai Party and their red shirt supporters, or the opposition Democrat Party – all largely sidelined since the military coup) in the end vehemently rejecting this idea, the other government bodies have fielded their CDC nominations with less buzz: the military-dominated ersatz-parliament National Legislative Assembly (NLA) and the junta cabinet of ministers and the junta itself, officially called the “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), have appointed five members each.

The NCPO also chose the chairman of the CDC: Borwornsak Uwanno, law professor at Chulalongkorn University and secretary-general of the King Prajadhipok Institute. Borwornsak was previously a member of the 1997 constitution drafting committee, widely regarded as the “People’s Constitution” pushing Thailand towards democracy, having the majority of its drafters elected by the people (!) back then. That is a stark contrast to the 2014 constitution drafting process – junta leader and prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has reportedly picked all the cabinet’s nominations for the CDC “by himself”.

Unsurprisingly, like all the other military government bodies, the CDC nominations show no non-partisanship either. The news website Prachatai has counted at least 7 CDC candidates that were actively involved or have supported the anti-government protests that began last year and ended with military coup of May 22. The rallies led by Suthep Thuagsuban and other veteran politicians of the Democrat Party paralyzed parts of Bangkok for weeks and also sabotaged the February 2 snap-elections.

So, what can we expect from the next charter? Article 35 of the current interim constitution (translation available here) offers a glimpse of what is to come:

Section 35. The draft Constitution shall cover the following matters:
(1) the principle of being one and indivisible Kingdom;
(2) the democratic regime of government with the King as the Head of State which is suitable for Thai context;
(3) the efficient mechanism for prevention, examination and suppression of corruption in both public and private sectors, including mechanism to guarantee that State powers shall be exercised only for national interest and public benefit;
(4) the efficient mechanism for prevention of a person whom ordered by a judgment or any legal order that he commits any corruption or undermines the trustworthiness or fairness of an election from holding any political position stringently;
(5) the efficient mechanism which enabling State officials; especially a person holding political position, and political party to perform their duties or activities independently and without illegal manipulation or mastermind of any person or group of persons;
(6) the efficient mechanism for strengthening the Rule of Law and enhancing good moral, ethics and governance in all sectors and levels;
(7) the efficient mechanism for restructuring and driving economic and social system for inclusive and sustainable growth and preventing populism administration which may damage national economic system and the public in the long run;
(8) the efficient mechanism for accountable spending of State fund which shall be in response of public needs and compliance with financial status of the country, and the efficient mechanism for audit and disclosure of the spending of State fund;
(9) the efficient mechanism for prevention of the fundamental principle to be laid down by the new Constitution;
(10) the mechanism which is necessary for further implementation for the completion of reform.

The Constitution Drafting Committee shall deliberate the necessity and worthiness of the Constitutional Organs of, and other organizations to be established by the provisions of, the new Constitution. In case of necessity, measures to ensure the efficient and effective performance of each organization shall be addressed.

While somewhat vague in its wording, the motivations behind it are pretty clear: a self-proclaimed crusade against “corrupt” politicians and even a constitutionally enshrined restriction of “populist” policies utilized by the previous governments associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Some other CDC members (to remind you, as of now officially not confirmed yet!) are thinking out loud of some other ideas including curtailing the power of political parties in the future or preventing banned politicians from running for office again – a clear indication of the military junta’s goal to hinder yet another election victory by a Thaksin-associated party as much as possible.

“My hope is that the new constitution will put a stop to past divisions and that the public will be as involved in its drafting as possible,” Gen. Prayuth was quoted in the media. However, the partisanship of all government bodies under the military junta makes it clear yet again that the so-called “reform process” will not include all sides of the political spectrum – it’s quite an one-sided raw deal for everyone (naively) hoping for a quick return to democracy in Thailand.

Unlike the last constitution in 2007, there will be no referendum on the next constitution. So the earliest point in time the Thai people will have any say in the political discourse will most likely be at the next elections, as promised by the military junta to be held some time late 2015 – or not!