EDITORIAL: Charter change must be our sole focus

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - The junta’s Constitution could keep Thailand in chains for a generation, denied a progressive future.

It will take considerable time to establish full-fledged democracy in Thailand, but right now we need more people – citizens and legislators alike – to begin imagining what it should look like. We have wasted far too much time already in the grip of corruption and authoritarian rule, and the progress achieved has been negligible.
For starters, the groundswell of popular support for revamping 
the current military-imposed Constitution needs to build into a national movement.
A clique of military officers led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha lied to the Thai people in 2014 when it exploited the power of the armed forces to unseat an elected government in the name of “reform and reconciliation”. The reality proved to be that Prayut’s coup was aimed only at maintaining the status quo, safeguarding the establishment elite and the upper class while at the same time aiding the generals themselves. Needing a new charter, the junta appointed Bowornsak Uwanno to prepare a first draft, only to scrap it because, as Bowornsak lamented, “they want to stay longer in power”.
Bowornsak’s draft was badly flawed but still far superior to the document his mentor Meechai Ruchuphan authored, our current Constitution. Rather than laying down a foundation for the return to democracy and guaranteeing basic freedoms, it was obviously intended to help Prayut perpetuate his hold on power almost indefinitely. It is also designed to be almost tamper-proof – difficult to amend.
This is the document that has kept Prayut in the Prime Minister’s Office, post-election, even though he did not stand for any office and the party supporting him did not win the most votes. The charter authorised Prayut to handpick 250 senators who would help ensure his continuation in power. He mustered 500 votes in all in Parliament, and then had the temerity to tell Asean leaders gathered in Bangkok last weekend that he’d “won the election” and Thailand was now a democracy again.
The junta’s Constitution further sets out a 20-year national strategy, not unusual in such documents, but democratic constitutions do not feature clauses threatening sanctions against future governments that veer from the strategy. These penalty clauses handcuff future elected governments by pre-empting ideas that might truly benefit the people. Democracy places trust in the common man’s judgement and his ability to choose the right people to lead them. Errors occur, but history indicates that the concept is generally sound.
It is also utterly unreasonable to believe that Prayut and his cohort have somehow foreseen all the possible changes to come in the next two decades and anticipated them in their master plan. Their long-term strategy is inherently blind.
It’s important to note, too, that the junta-backed government operating under this same Constitution achieved none of its goals. The economy remains stagnant, political division is as stark as ever, and the overall quality of life, though improved in some ways, has suffered severe setbacks in terms of civil rights.
Getting from this bleak stage to where we ought to be will be an uphill struggle due to the entrenched military and elite. Activists and the opposition in Parliament should focus on getting more citizens participating in the process to change the charter and unchain the future.
The 1991 junta constitution, born in a coup, yielded under public pressure to the 1997 “people’s constitution”. It was flawed too, but the best one we’ve ever had, thanks entirely to the level of 
public participation in its drafting.

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