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Public faces dilemma over referendum

Jun 11. 2015
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Observers warn of Catch-22 situation - rejection of charter would extend junta rule

WHILE critics say amendments to the interim charter are aimed at altering the road map to facilitate an extended reign by the military government, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insists that his regime will not stay on until 2017.

“I will not stay with you for the rest of my life. I think I will not be with you in 2017, indeed I have to go in 2016,” Prayut told people in the eastern province of Rayong, which he visited to inspect an irrigation project yesterday. The country has problems because its administration was abused, he said. “What I did [to correct the mistakes] last year will be finished by next year and handed over to the new government.” 
Prayut said he would stick to his timeframe under the road map but critics believe the decision to amend the provisional charter is a clear indication that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is seeking to stay on in power through legal means.
The amendment will allow the referendum to ask people whether they will endorse the new constitution and other questions such as whether the military government should continue.
Observers said people are caught in a Catch-22 conundrum. If they reject the draft charter, they would in effect be letting the junta stay on to oversee another round of charter writing. “This is [like seeking] an extension of a stay in power through a legal instrument,” said Somchai Preechasinlapakun, a Chiang Mai law lecturer. 
Pressure should be exerted to allow for a choice. If the new charter is thumbed down, a choice should be given for reviving an old but acceptable charter instead of coming up with yet another version under the auspices of the NCPO, which guarantees nothing better, he said.
PM’s Office Minister Suwapan Tanyuvardhana said the Prayut government could remain in power for two to four more years after the plebiscite due to several factors. For instance, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC)’s term will be extended for 30 days to review the charter. If the National Reform Committee (NRC) votes to pass the revised charter, the plebiscite would be conducted around January or February.
If the NRC rejects the charter, a new NRC and CDC would be appointed. The process of seeking royal endorsement for the charter and drafting organic laws required by the charter is lengthy, he said.
Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said the referendum would probably include a question on whether to allow the NCPO and its leader Prayut to stay on. 
NRC member Seree Suwanphanont warned that the voting on the new charter would end up becoming a vote on Prayut and the junta.
 Weng Tojirakarn, co-leader of the red-shirt United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, said it’s wishful thinking to assume the referendum would be free and fair when opponents of the junta cannot meet to articulate the issue without the threat of arrest. “”Referendum” sounds sacred, but it’s going to be a referendum held under the barrel of a gun,” he said.
Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam proposed that the amendment of the interim charter, expected to come into force in July, would also allow politicians banned from politics to become members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), Cabinet and a new reform council. The amendment aims to promote reconciliation, he said.
 Jade Donavanik, a CDC member, said the amendment would bring more inclusiveness in national reform and charter drafting by bringing in politicians from the cold who will be key players in the post-junta era. The proposal would give different political groups a chance to “communicate and compromise”, he said.
Suwapan dismissed speculation that the amendment of the interim charter would pave the way for persons who were once banned from politics to get Cabinet portfolios. 
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the charter should be amended only if necessary. He questioned if it was necessary to allow politicians once banned from serving as Cabinet or NLA members.

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