About 61 percent of Thai citizens gave their approval to an army promoted charter in a tightly controlled constitutional referendum. This constitution will keep the country’s armed forces in power much long into the future. Voter turnout, however, was low at 55 percent.
The August 7 results stunned the pro-democracy campaigners. They held the belief that this charter, arguably Thailand’s most regressive till date- would be resoundingly opposed in the polls. The principal Thai political parties have accepted the result. They have previously asked for rejecting the constitution. The charter puts new electoral rules made expressly to generate weak coalition governments that will be “guided” by the military influenced “independent” commissions. The latter will monitor the policies formulated by the politicians and also their moral conduct. The senate will be fully selected by the army. The military generals will henceforth require only quarter of total legislators in lower house to shore up their selection of prime ministers. There is no need for the prime minister to be a MP. Amending the constitution will be prohibitively problematic.
The military junta celebrated the result. A statement was promptly issued, terming the vote a kind of “pinnacle” which was made possible through a number of years of hard work. It also expressed contempt for foreigners who have criticized this process. Military Generals have banned all campaigners from opposing this charter, and in run up to the polling day, had deployed about 700,000 people. Soldiers and a number of bureaucrats have “explained” it to the voters.
Only 15 million people, or one-third of voters, have given their consent to the new constitution. It was not the result the military junta was expecting after pouring such a huge number of resources, but it was more than the percentage who had backed Thailand’s previous constitution. The older one itself was put in place by the armed forces post the 2006 coup. That coup threw the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power. Shinawatra is now in a self-imposed exile.
The Thai provinces have not voted evenly for the constitution. Voters resident in the rural province of Isaan, a Thaksin stronghold, has narrowly rejected the charter with 51.4 percent rejecting it and 48.6 percent accepting. Southern Thailand’s muslim dominated provinces have given it a firm negative. Thailand is fighting a portracted guerilla war in those places.