SOME NRC MEMBERS WANT ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS WHEN CHARTER REFERENDUM IS HELD IN NEW YEAR
EVER SINCE last month when members of the National Reform Council floated the idea of allowing additional questions to be put to the people in the referendum on the draft constitution early next year, debates have been raging in the political arena.
At the outset, many feared the extra questions would be a means to realise the political ambitions of the powers that be as well as the coup beneficiaries. However, those accused of attempting to cling to power have come out and reaffirmed that they are still strictly following the road map to democracy announced last year.
However, the notion of additional questions in the referendum besides the one on the draft charter hasn’t faded out. It is likely that questions will be added to the plebiscite, as an amendment allows the NRC and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to contribute one question each to the national plebiscite.
Some NRC and NLA members have yet to decide which questions to propose if requested but assert that they should be constructive and not deepen the national divide.
Taweesak Sutkawatin, an NLA member and a professor from Nida, said he had not thought of what to ask exactly and the panel had not discussed that yet. However, any extra questions should not involve any |particular individual.
“If the referendum will contain additional questions, they should truly be about the public or the public interest. It should not include those concerning some particular people because it will contradict the fundamental principle of the referendum,” he said.
Nirawat Punnakanta, former vice governor of Ranong and an NLA member, was also unsure of the questions that might be included in the referendum, but underlined they should not provoke a national uproar.
“The extra questions should be advantageous to the public. They should not be something that might cause a furore like saying ‘should there be a reform before election?’,” he said.
Amorn Wanichwiwatana, an NRC member and political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said openly that the national plebiscite should have an extra question asking the public to decide whether they would like some specific reforms to be completed before they could have an election. And like other reformers and lawmakers, he opposed a question that would trigger public unrest.
Another political figure who is clear that the referendum should hold additional questions is Alongkorn Ponlaboot, secretary of the whips of the National Reform Council (NRC) and former deputy leader of the Democrat Party.
“I think we should include questions besides whether to approve the draft constitution. This is to set a precedent for the country and pave the way for more national referendums on issues that concern the people.
“Thailand has only had one plebiscite so far and it was on the constitution of 2007. We’ve never had any referendum before on important national agenda items,” he said.
“But I don’t think the extra questions should be about the constitution in detail. It would be redundant to ask about reforms or something like that. They are already in the constitution.
“Instead, they should ask something like ‘should we alter the capital?’ or ‘should we build a bureaucratic city?’ These are essential for the people,’” he said.
Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar, sees it all differently.
“There should not be any question beside whether to approve the draft constitution,” he said.
“The referendum should not ask anything further, especially if the questions are going to contradict the principles of democracy. For example, the people should not be asked to endorse the stay of an undemocratic government or to delay the election.
“No country in the world except Chile did that. And it didn’t turn out very well there,” he said.
“In principle, a referendum should endorse democratic matters. It will be strange to ask people to back things that are against democracy,” he said.
Wanchai Sornsiri and Jed Siratharanon, spokesmen of NRC and NLA whips, both maintained that they hadn’t had any discussion on the referendum questions.
The scheduled date is still very far away. The draft constitution has to be finalised and passed by the NRC first before they could deliberate whether to ask anything at all or what to ask in the plebiscite in addition to the passage of the constitution, they said.
However, extra referendum questions is an issue very much worth keeping a close look at because if questions are added, it would be the first time ever for Thailand to have a plebiscite on national matters other than the constitution, like we had in 2007.