By Jintana Panyaarvudh
The additional question in the upcoming referendum asking whether an appointed Senate should be included in the vote to select the prime minister could lead to confusion and complication among agencies concerned.
Proposed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the question would be tacked onto the central question of whether voters accept the draft written by the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC).
Yet things would be complicated by the inclusion of two questions on one single ballot.
According to 2014 interim charter, which was amended to allow the NLA to propose a question, if voters’ answer to the additional question is not in line with the charter draft, the CDC would need to adjust the draft accordingly.
Chances are 50:50 that the CDC will have to make that adjustment after the referendum result before submitting its draft for review by the Constitutional Court.
There are four scenarios for the August 7 referendum:
- A yes to charter draft and a yes to empowering the Senate to choose a PM.
- A yes to the draft and a no to the additional question.
- No to the draft and a yes for the additional question.
- No to the draft and no to an empowered Senate.
The third scenario of no to the draft and yes to the Senate’s additional power could lead to the most complications. In this scenario the junta would need to draft a new charter stipulating a Senate empowered in accordance with the referendum result. That would mean postponing the date of the general election, currently set for September 2017 at the soonest.
The second scenario of yes to the draft and no to extra Senate power would be the least complicated, as the election could go ahead immediately without any need to change the draft. But the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) certainly wouldn’t be happy at failing to get what it wants, which is control in Parliament via the appointed Senate.
So the junta would seek a way to add the special Senate power to the draft.
The additional question has sparked furore among politicians.
On one hand, they view empowering an appointed Senate to choose the head of government as illegitimate since the appointed officials would not be representative of voters.
Politicians are opposed to a move that would dilute their power with 250 senators appointed by the NCPO.
Simply put, the 250 senators would become members of the “NCPO party” in Parliament.
Politicians from the two major parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, have slammed the NLA’s move to approve the additional question. They say it implies that elected members of the House of Representatives would not be necessary. Worse still, it would pave the way for an “outsider” with no affiliation with any political party to become PM.
On the positive side, the junta has now revealed all of its cards.
The question itself is the “ace”, revealing to voters the junta’s desire to retain power after the next election through the Senate.
So, voters who now know in advance that the junta does indeed want to stay can make a decision on whether to approve that desire or not.
The junta is taking a gamble by adding the question to the referendum. While the charter draft is being used as an indicator of whether voters accept the junta, the additional question provides a test of whether citizens accept the perpetuation of junta powers.