Why It Matters

The road back to Thai polls

Politically riven Thailand has changed Constitutions on an average of once every four years.

On Aug 7, voters endorsed what would be its 20th charter in a nationwide referendum. Its authors hope to lock down some long-term stability.

This comes in the form of clauses that require the future elected government to abide by a "national strategy plan", failing which it risks being impeached.

With the plebiscite's endorsement, Thailand's ruling junta will, during the transitory period, get to pick most of the members of its all-powerful Senate, which can now join an elected Lower House in picking a prime minister. This premier need not come from an election.

Critics say the voter endorsement was derived after a one-sided campaigning period aided by prohibitive referendum rules. The charter dilutes the power of the electorate, which has voted in governments only to see them ousted repeatedly in military coups supported by the kingdom's royalist elites. After it is promulgated, they say, coups will no longer be necessary, because the military can simply assume a place at the wheel.

Such arguments are secondary now as coup-maker and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha prepares for an election by the end of next year, if conditions remain "stable and peaceful". After more than two years under a military government, many quarters in Asean's second-largest economy are eager for the return of democratic rule - albeit a "guided" one.

Yet, concerns about stability persist, in view of a sensitive royal transition looming ahead. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88, is frail in health. Physicians say he was treated for a low fever and a possible blood infection last month. Last week, at least 11 closely timed bombs ripped through five southern provinces, killing four people.

The road back to an election may not be as smooth as it seems.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'The road back to Thai polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe