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Relief and uncertainty after NRC rejects charter

Sep 06. 2015
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By Wassamon Audjarint,
Wiraj Sri

NCPO seen as helping to kill a flawed draft and giving itself more time in office

THE National Reform Council (NRC)’s rejection of the draft charter yesterday was a major relief for many and a disappointment for others – but its consequence, in delaying a new election and extending the junta and the military government’s rule, was also a big concern.

A majority of the NRC – 135 members – voted against the draft, compared to 105 who backed it, suggesting many saw it as less democratic and with the potential to create more problems. 
Speculation over why the draft was rejected ranged from a bid to avoid the situation from getting out of control due to controversial aspects in the draft to a ploy by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to buy more time for itself.
Chamnan Chanruang, a law expert and member of ‘Midnight University’, said the nightmare was over but with a caveat. “We’re not awake, as we’re still stuck with the military junta,” he said, referring to the NCPO which staged the coup in May 2014 and appointed both the NRC and Constitution Drafting Committee, which are both now defunct.
A new 21-person charter drafting committee and a new reform council will be appointed soon.
“[The NCPO] was afraid they would not be able to rein in the situation. Now they have 210 additional days of breathing space,” Chamnan said, referring to the 30 days given to the NCPO to appoint new charter drafters and 180 days for the drafting committee to finish the job.
Independent scholar Sarinee Achavanuntakul also expressed relief but added that she had doubts and feared a repeat of the same drafting process under the NCPO.
“Everything seems to be conducted behind closed doors. So there’s no guarantee that we will be more involved in shaping the new draft or be provided more space to criticise,” she said, adding that Thailand might be stuck in the same cycle.
Henning Glaser, an expert on Thai constitutions at Thammasat University, said the NRC appropriately anticipated the probable result of the referendum “and thus avoided a costly debacle”.
The last minute inclusion of the controversial ‘crisis committee’, known as the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee (NSRRC), was probably the turning point, Glaser said.
His view that the NSRRC was the key element that sunk the draft was shared by former Democrat MP Boonyod Sukthinthai. Boonyod warned that the result was a reminder to the NCPO to be more open to public opinion.
Glaser added that Thailand faces a challenge of not only redefining the supreme law but to ensure more transparency in the drafting process.
In a sentiment shared by many opponents of the NCPO, independent political scientist Sirote Klampaiboon claimed that the result was part of a plan to prolong the NCPO’s time in power as the NRC was subject to heavy lobbying just prior to the vote.
Senior Pheu Thai Party executive Phongthep Thepkanjana thanked the NRC yesterday for voting down the draft “for the sake of the country”.
Phongthep said it was better to reject the draft now to save time and that he was okay with a delay before an election is held, now expected in 2017, as long as the new charter is democratic. 
However, Phongthep said he wished that the new drafting committee, to be appointed by the NCPO within 30 days, would not include controversial elements in the next draft.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who earlier called for a rejection of the draft, said all parties should take this opportunity to adjust the constitution for true reform. There were some good points in the rejected draft, he said.
Red-shirts from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) issued a statement saying the whole process was illegitimate. It said the NCPO had no legitimacy in restarting another drafting process, and there was no guarantee a new draft would be democratic.
The UDD demanded someone take responsibility for the failed drafting process and called for the reinstatement of the 1997 Constitution.
Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation, put a post on Facebook urging people not to be discouraged. “We will stay the course to continue our mission for true reform,” he said.
But, many voicing relief at the result also expressed uncertainty or even gloom. “I am not looking forward to seeing anything new with the [same] process because it doesn’t originate from a liberal regime and rather reflects Thai-style democracy,” said Siam University law lecturer Ekachai Chanuvati.

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