By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN
SOME members of the public are still mystified about the contents and implications of the draft charter, according to responses from a TV show audience.
In the final hours before the public casts ballots to decide the charter’s fate, people called “The Essence of the Constitution Draft” show on Thai PBS on Thursday to ask: “What is the referendum?”
The 21 Constitution Drafting Commission members appeared on the late-night show to explain the draft for a final time before tomorrow’s referendum. The fact that some people are still uncertain after all this time is worrying and comes amid calls for an open debate to make it better understood.
But for “The Essence of the Constitution Draft”, the drafters opted for a question and answer session with the TV hosts and the audience instead of a debate. The 10-episode show finished last night, having been aired in response to criticism that the state has not provided sufficient information on the charter.
Throughout the two-hour live show, 16 drafters responded to questions from more than 100 phone callers on 25 hotlines, while the five other drafters, including chief drafter Meechai Ruchupan, were being grilled by the hosts on stage.
Meechai reasoned that holding debates on the charter would only add fuel to the fire. “The opposition [to the charter] all have their stances. And they just would not listen anyway,” he said.
The veteran legislator said that talking to opponents of the charter was not helpful in providing information. “They have their beliefs and it is just the two sides thinking differently. So, talk in that format is just of no use.”
The hosts acted as substitutes for the opposing side and vigorously posed questions on hot-button subjects, including state welfare, the political structure and the National Reform Assembly’s additional referendum question. Voters will be asked to decide on whether the 250 senators appointed under the charter draft should be allowed to join the House of Representatives in the voting process to select a prime minister for the five-year transitional period following the next election.
The six drafters on the stage remained enthusiastic for the entire show and provided answers without a hitch, despite questions like “What is the referendum?”
“The bread and butter stuff is the No 1 concern that the general public has about the charter,” charter spokesman Amorn Wanichwiwatana said. “They asked a lot about whether or not they would still be provided with universal health care services and free education [under the charter].”
Amorn said that he was not sure whether the callers had been satisfied with all the answers because time was limited for each call. However, he hoped the information provided was enough for them to make a decision on how to vote.
Drafter Supachai Yawabhrapas said that it was very valuable for the drafters and the public to talk directly to one another. He said that a lot of callers were worried about health care and education under the charter.
One caller who spoke to Amorn for more than 40 minutes expressed disappointment.
“This is one of the very last chances that they had to talk directly to the public. Yet, they were not saying something I hadn’t heard,” she said. “They could have done better. They, for instance, provided some answers about the Senate being possibly selected by the junta, saying that these people [Senators] would have credentials. But I just don’t have the same faith [the drafters] do.”