Thais head to the polls next week to vote in a referendum designed to breathe life into what has become a stagnant democratic process. An affirmative vote on Aug. 7 will see Thailand adopt a new constitution — its twentieth since 1932. Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in 2014, has promised general elections next year — but not before a fresh constitution is adopted. But that next step is by no means a fait accompli for, once again, Thailand is polarized as many fear that Prayuth and his cadres are getting a little too comfortable in the government’s shoes. While there are undoubtedly some who approve of the substance of the draft charter, which was painstakingly drawn up by a military-appointed committee, millions of disillusioned Thai citizens just want to see the wheels of democracy moving again.
Released publicly in March, the revised constitution has been touted as an edict to finally combat the endemic culture of corruption that pervades the country’s politics. The word “corruption” is mentioned no less than 46 times in the draft charter, with robust promises of organic laws and mechanisms “to rigorously prevent and eradicate corruption and misconduct,” as well as sweeping powers bestowed upon a nine-member National Counter Corruption Commission, which will be appointed by the King. The 94-page document also contains strong provisions on healthcare and education.
But critics say approval of the charter would entrench the junta’s grip on power, allowing it a large say in government even after it has left office. The new constitution would allow the military the opportunity to advocate its own candidate for prime minister, and permit it to step in and dissolve parliament at whim.