Thailand's referendum: Will we muddle through? The Nation

Thai Army Reserve Force volunteer students (right) hold placards as they hand out leaflets for a referendum campaign at a street market near Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand on July 27.
Thai Army Reserve Force volunteer students (right) hold placards as they hand out leaflets for a referendum campaign at a street market near Victory Monument in Bangkok, Thailand on July 27. PHOTO: EPA

With about one week before the Big Referendum on Aug 7 to decide whether the constitution draft will be approved, most Thais may still be undecided on how to vote.

Suthichai Yoon

The Nation/Asia News Network

For one thing, quite a few can't be sure whether they are being asked to vote on the charter draft - or whether it's a vote of confidence or lack of confidence in Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

For another, quite a large segment of the population has yet to get some clear answers on the pros and cons of the draft. Most people wouldn't have gone through the draft with a fine-tooth comb. In fact, quite a few can't even tell you how the new draft differs from the previous ones.

Besides, there isn't just one question to vote on in the referendum. There is supposedly a second question, which poses even more complications than the first one.

The second question hasn't featured in any of the questions raised in all those official briefings by the "teachers" assigned to explain the draft charter to the local people around the country.

They have been officially charged with discussing the content of the draft - and even in that they have been very cautious so as to not be accused of "misrepresenting" the "real purpose" of the provisions - an act that could land them in some serious trouble.

Don't be taken aback, therefore, if you discover in casual conversation with friends that very few Thais know exactly what the second question is about - or what is the real purpose behind it.

If you didn't know it before, now is the time to come to the big realisation that yes, there is really the Second Question in the referendum ballot, which should read something along these lines:

"Do you agree or not agree that in order for national reforms to continue uninterrupted in accordance with the National Strategy, it should be stipulated in the Provisional Clause of the Constitution that during the first 5 years, as of the day that the first government under the constitution is installed, a joint Parliament session shall consider the approval of the person to be appointed Prime Minister."

Now, if the first question in the referendum presents the eligible voters with a great dilemma, the second question inevitably poses an even greater challenge for the average citizen.

To begin with, what, in God's name, is the National Strategy? Has anyone come forward to inform, explain, analyse - not to mention offering hard-hitting pros and cons - about that grand plan which apparently will be a 20-year exercise?

And if it's a 20-year business, why is it that the premier to be chosen with this "special arrangement" would be in office for only five years? Why not four. or six, or ten years?

The man on the street would also like to know whether this "provisional clause" indicates that the current prime minister could well be back in power after the election.

If so, what's the point of a new election in the first place? If not, how can whoever is picked as the new leader ensure sufficient "continuity" to carry out the National Strategy, which after all is the brainchild of the outgoing premier.

It might be a naive question but most voters would certainly like to know whether the premier himself endorses the draft or not. Is he supposed to be "behind" the drafting at every stage or does he want to be known as totally detached from the charter drafting process?

But isn't it quite obvious where he stands on this issue? Not really. Some days, he seems to be vehemently defending the Constitution Drafting Committee. On other days, the premier would hit back at anyone remotely suggesting that he is either for or against the draft.

The average citizen on the street wants to know where the PM stands on this particular draft for a very good reason: He or she has yet to know what will happen if the draft is rejected. Will the PM then decide on his own which draft to adopt - or is he going to appoint a new committee - third time lucky, perhaps - to start all over again?

Again, the PM has given no clues one way or the other. He doesn't like anyone "campaigning" against the draft. But then, he hasn't told us what happens if things don't go the way he wants it to. Or is he absolutely confident that things, in the end, will go the way he thinks they should? If so, he should probably pretend to get really angry with reporters one of these days so that he could let slip some of his inner thoughts.

That's not all. Deep down, voters still can't be sure what will happen if some of the following scenarios should ensue on Aug 7:

1. The First Question gets a big Yes but the Second Question gets a big No.

2.The First Question gets a big No but the Second Question gets a big Yes.

3. The First Question and the Second Question get a big No.

4. Substitute "big" with "small" in all the previous scenarios.

Some people have kindly advised me not to be overly concerned. This being Thailand, despite all the "creative confusion" hovering over the upcoming exercise, we will muddle through somehow. One can't be too sure.

The country might have used up the last drop of luck already. When was the last time anyone checked on the Kingdom's "reserves of luck?"