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The people, not just politicians, will feel impact of charter as written, experts say

Apr 13. 2016
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AS THE COMPLEX mechanisms in the draft constitution for curbing corruption and crises have been revealed, some critics predict that the impacts of these measures will be felt profoundly not only by political structures and politicians, but also by the peo
Under the charter draft, public policies are principally addressed under the section concerning fundamental policies of the state, and a separate section concerning reform plans. Both would be closely “supervised” by particular structures including an unelected Senate for the first five years of a civilian government. 
Other sections require an elected government to come up with advance planning and reporting as well as auditing for any policies it proposes.
Attasit Pankaew, a Thammasat University political scientist, said it was not only the parliamentary structure that we have to look at to see the political landscape after the election in 2017. Rather, the reform plans and the so-called national strategy pushed by the military’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and its National Reform Steering Assembly also have to be watched closely.
According to the draft constitution, the government would have to report the progress of reform to the junta-selected Senate. And the government would have to follow strictly the junta-imposed 20-year national strategy as well, he said. 
What this means is that the government and the political parties will not be able to pursue their own policies freely because they will limited by the reform agenda, the national strategy, and the independent organisations.
Populist policies to be monitored
In addition, potential populist policies would be closely monitored by independent agencies that could take action powerful enough even to remove members of the executive branch from office. 
The politicians would have to adapt to the new rules. This means their policies would also be adapted accordingly.
As such, the challenge would lie in how much politicians could compromise on the reform plans, the national strategy, and their own policies when they clearly contradict one another, he said. Attasit said that, for example, some populist policies favoured by the people might not be allowed by the reforms or the rules set by this regime. 
“The new political landscape set by the constitution as such would have an impact not only on politicians, but also on the people,” he said. 
“Many people could feel left out when politics [remains] under the thumb of the current regime. They would feel like they do not matter, because after all, they don’t get to choose their own PM or the ruling political parties. They don’t get to voice what kind of policies they want. Everything is dictated by the elite, the powers that be.”
Attasit said this present charter draft had designed public-policy development in such a way that people could eventually lose faith in politics, and in the long run democracy would retreat and become unhealthy as a result. Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political-science scholar and a vice rector at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, agreed, saying that such a system would undermine people’s participation in politics, and it could doom the development of democracy in the country.
Democracy roadway, no destination
He said democracy was the roadway, not the destination. Although the reform plans and the national strategy arose from good intentions, they could be harmful if they turn aside the democratic process of learning among the people. Some other political critics are concerned about the consequences the charter may have on the political structure in the long run.
Sukhum Nualsakul, formerly a rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, who participated in a quasi-democracy in the late 1970s, told The Nation that Thailand was on the brink of going back to that era allowed under the 1978 Constitution, especially via the newly designed single-ballot system.
In the eyes of Sukhum, the single-ballot system would weaken the big parties and tend to favour the medium-sized ones, yielding them more bargaining power. So it is very likely that the country will have a coalition government after the election.
“Such a system gives way to the country getting an outside prime minister. This is not to mention the fact that [junta-selected] senators could choose the PM alongside the MPs,” the noted political scientist said.
Siripan Noksuan Sawasdee, a political-science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, added that the junta would have the power to dictate who the next prime minister would be. This would be carried out through the 250 unelected senators. Under the draft constitution, these senators would technically be appointed by the NCPO, and with the additional question proposed to go with the charter referendum, they would have the authority to approve a prime minister. 
So that is like the NCPO itself choosing a PM, also because the single-ballot system allows no party to have a majority voice, she said. The Senate, she is quite certain, would become the determining factor in shaping the country’s political structure and people’s fates.

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