Thailand’s new constitution was supposed to bring at least the appearance of legitimacy and normalcy for the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But with a month to go before a national referendum, critics and human rights activists say a law essentially banning any real discussion of the document is just the latest sign that little is likely to change two* years after Mr. Prayuth seized power in a military coup. Thailand’s Constitutional Court last week upheld a law that metes out 10 years in prison to anyone who voices an opinion — pro or con — about the government-backed draft constitution or campaigns for or against it before a nationwide Aug. 7 referendum. Monitoring of the vote by opposition groups, the United Nations or international rights activists is also blocked.
The prime minister, the former commander of the Royal Thai Army and the head of the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order, revealed that he will not give up his office even in the unlikely event that Thai voters reject the constitution. “If the draft constitution does not pass, a new one has to be written,” he said.
The court’s decision and Mr. Prayuth’s hard-line stance are severe disappointments to dissidents, local media, and Thai and international human rights groups that hoped the debate on the constitution would open some space for increased political activity in the country, a key U.S. ally in the region. Many were characterizing the referendum as a popularity test of the junta as it enters a third year in power.