ConstitutionNet: Thailand’s next post-coup constitution: Uncharted territory to ‘true democracy’ or same old trodden path back to authoritarianism?

Originally published at ConstitutionNet on April 30, 2015

On the afternoon of 22 May 2014 Thailand’s military launched a coup in response to which even the most casual observers of Thai politics and history would have sighed an exasperated ‘not again!’. Indeed, this is the Kingdom’s 12th military takeover of power since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The most recent coup was the climax, toppling the besieged government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – or rather what was left of it following her ousting from power after the Constitutional Court found her guilty of an illegal personnel transfer.

The coup came after nearly half a year of political gridlock due to sustained street protests in the capital Bangkok, where opposition politicians instigated chaotic actions that at times have turned violent. Such gridlock is just the latest episode of a much longer crisis that has rocked the Thai political landscape. Since 2006, the clash of multiple issues and stakeholders often beyond the realm of stable democratic politics had led to colour-coded street protests and military coups. And yet again we have a military junta that has complete control over the political discourse. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta officially calls itself, has outlawed public gatherings, detained dissenting opponents and enforced a high degree of media censorship.

In Thailand, military coups detats seem to follow a distinct pattern: after seizing power and declaring martial law, the first few orders dissolve parliament. Shortly after that, comes an order declaring that the current constitution has been suspended. The duration of this legal void until a new constitution is promulgated, differs from coup to coup. This time, it lasted about two months as the junta adopted a new interim constitution that whitewashes its own actions, declaring all its past and future acts legal and constitutional. Such convenient clauses are also included in the interim constitution of 2014, while the touted emphasis is on ‘reforming’Thailand’s political system to end the country’s long-running divisions. In other words, the military junta’s (official) plan is to ‘bring back reconciliation’ to Thai society and to rid politics of corruption – a catch-all justification to demonize elected politicians.

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