Editorial Notes

Thailand's charter rejection is a political game: The Nation

A general view of the Thai Parliament as members of the National Reform Council (NRC) voting on the new draft constitution at Parliament House in Bangkok, Thailand on Sept 6, 2015.
A general view of the Thai Parliament as members of the National Reform Council (NRC) voting on the new draft constitution at Parliament House in Bangkok, Thailand on Sept 6, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

Thai constitutions are never about collective values, says The Nation newspaper.

Thailand is a nation at odds with itself, which is why the killing of the charter draft by the military-installed reform assembly on Sunday (Sept 6) was just a part of the journey into the unknown.

Pessimistically speaking, we are a country where constitutions do not represent collective values. The highest laws of the land have been used to flex political muscles, or abused and exploited. Our charters have been torn up, rewritten, abused and torn up again in a vicious circle.

Besides, the aborted draft, as anyone can see, faced a lot more complications.

Now, a new charter draft will have to be written. Chances are that the new draft, too, will go through the all-too-familiar ordeals. On Sunday, we saw a political game, not something motivated by the best interests of the Thai people.

Optimists say Thailand is going through a learning process which has reached that point where things need to get repetitive so that when we finally remember, we will remember well. We have seen the pros and cons of, say, elected or non-elected or semi-elected Senates, the exclusive power of Parliament to deal with corruption or extreme checks and balances that took a lot of power away from elected politicians.

We have seen them all and are probably learning from the repetitive lessons. One day we should come good, according to this school of optimistic thought.

Pessimists don't see an end to the vicious circle any time soon. The national divide has shown no sign of abating, internecine power plays keep on going and coups can still happen no matter what.

It's a chicken and egg situation on a national, destructive scale. One half thinks corruption jinxed democracy while the other half thinks only democracy can effectively tackle corruption. Thailand's Constitution, the pessimists believe, is like Jerusalem, where the Christian and Islamic crusaders took turns conquering.

With nobody really listening, it's extremely difficult to forge common national values, which should be fundamental in every good constitution. A referendum is meant to give a new charter some sort of legitimacy but everyone is looking forward to such a vote with varying degrees of apprehension.

Further complicating things is how the military government handled the charter draft before it was aborted yesterday. Speculation abounded about the reform council's rejection of the draft being a conspiracy to extend the government's reign. That most "No" votes came from military and police personnel in the reform council helped strengthen the rumours.

The military government has also been criticised for its reluctance to allow no-holds-barred campaigns for or against the charter draft. This meant only certain people could voice ideas on how the to form the basis of a very important document.

The reluctance may have stemmed from concern over political volatility. However, pros and cons sometimes need to be shown or discussed in an extreme manner. Limiting campaigns for or against the draft can result in limited public knowledge of what is supposed to be very important to their lives.

This does not necessarily mean a public vote will be a magic pill that gives a new Constitution much-wanted legitimacy and ensures its success. Any referendum will be questioned because it will be taking place when Thailand is still under a military rule.

More ominous still, if a draft charter sails through a referendum, it will, take away the current post-coup interim charter, replace a predecessor with an eerily similar history. The 2007 Constitution was enacted after a coup, with a writing process supervised by the military, and went through a public referendum.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers.