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Scandals may hurt referendum

Jul 20. 2016
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By Kasamakorn Chanwanpen

The Constitution Drafting Commission is still negotiating a rough road, after writing the charter draft from scratch. Up until August 7, it has to travel up and down the country promoting the constitution and the referendum, as opponents of the charter dr
The Constitution Drafting Commission is still negotiating a rough road, after writing the charter draft from scratch. Up until August 7, it has to travel up and down the country promoting the constitution and the referendum, as opponents of the charter draft call for it to be rejected. 
The Nation’s Kasamakorn Chanwanpen and Piyaporn Wongruang talked to CDC spokesman Chartchai Na Chiangmai about the charter dissemination plan as well as the challenges ahead.
How does the CDC get millions of eligible voters to understand the 279-article constitution and take part in the referendum?
Basically, we will train 350,000 volunteers from 84,000 villages across the country to be mouthpieces for the charter draft, or around four of them per village. These volunteers will knock on the doors and explain the crucial points – not all 279 articles – to voters. This way, the charter is more easily digested.
We will also produce folk songs representing each region of the country and play them on TV and radio to explain the charter. Infographics will also be made available online.
Who will be these 350,000 volunteers?
They will be what we call ‘teacher C’ and will be mainly selected from the communities. They will be people well known in the villages and generally welcomed by villagers. They have to also be trustworthy and have good communication skills, so they can pass on the words about the constitution correctly. 
But most importantly, they have to be very responsible in doing this crucial job. The CDC will rely mostly on them to make the charter draft known and to encourage people to exercise their right.
How will you train such a huge group of people to talk about the constitution, which is clearly not an easy assignment?
It will go down the ladder from the drafters to representatives at provincial, district, and community levels. The CDC will give them a brief containing the exact things that they have to say to voters. Also, we have listed some possible questions [that people may ask] and provided the answers for them. 
What are the most essential points in the charter draft that the CDC really wants voters to know?
There are five points that we want to get across. Firstly, their rights are protected under this charter: They can have access to education, public health services, and to other resources. The state also has a duty to fulfil these [requirements] to ensure people’s access to these resources.
Secondly, we want them to acknowledge that people have duties as well. The country will not move forward unless we are disciplined, and we all have to give a hand.
Thirdly, the charter draft stipulates that reforms must be carried out. These cover educational, justice, and political matters. The plan to curb corruption is also a reform, though it is not in the chapter directly.
Fourthly, the electoral systems, both for MPs and the Senate, should be acknowledged. Voters should know how they can help tackle the persisting problems facing the country.
Lastly, we want everyone to understand that the constitution can be amended, unlike what the opponents are saying. It is just that every party must give its consent.
What about the transitional period that contains exceptional rules – how are you going to explain this?
I don’t want to touch upon that if I really have a choice. Frankly speaking, we did not give the military everything they asked for. It was only on the Senate matter [that the Senate be selected by the junta] that we complied with their recommendation. 
But now everything is harder with the additional question posed by the National Legislative Assembly [to allow the junta-appointed Senate to have a part in selecting the prime minister]. So, we will let them [legislators] explain this because we don’t know in the first place. We weren’t a part of their discussions and debates when such a question was proposed.
What are the most worrisome aspects of the plan to promote the charter draft?
We hope that the … friendly door-to-door mission will be very effective in raising awareness about the draft and the referendum. 
However, in villages there are people with different colour-coded favourites. We don’t want our volunteers to fight with those strongly against the draft. It would worsen things. Funny questions might also be posed to stir things up and ridicule the volunteers.
Worse, different volunteers could answer the same question differently. It would further confuse voters and at the end they may not go to the polling stations.
But the decision made in the referendum could also be impacted by some “external factors”. 
Do you have any plan to tackle that?
The CDC is very well aware of that issue. We could just pray that they will wait until we pass this decisive time before doing anything because it could really affect the referendum. 
Some people who are not big fans of the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] often use the constitution to indirectly target the NCPO. They express dissatisfaction towards the charter to express their dissatisfaction with the NCPO. We really hope that the powers-that-be can remain calm.
The issues about [former Pheu Thai minister] Watana Muangsook and the scandal about pulling strings to reserve a military position for someone’s son can potentially shake the referendum on the ground if it spreads.
The CDC is putting in a lot of effort into writing and promoting the draft. What is your ultimate expectation?
We expect that voters will understand the draft. We expect that when we talk about the single-ballot system, you know what it is and what the benefits are. As a drafter, of course I want it to pass the referendum because I know that we have done the very best. However, I will respect the result no matter how it turns out. 
If you really read it and you don’t like it and you vote ‘no’, I’m fine with that. I just want you to really understand the charter. But it’s really up to you and how you vote.
Do you think voters will accept the charter?
As a drafter, I think we have done our best and people should like it, hopefully. But I want to add that our context now forces us to design the political system to be a rather restorative one, not a retributive one. 
Politicians have not worked on policies. We have patronism and cronyism and the politicians only seek to win with whatever means. We cannot go on like this. It would only lead to more street protests and then coups. 
The Westminster system just does not work here now like the book says. We have to look at the reality that we need good people and politics restored first. 
Starting from scratch again? 
Well, we need an atmosphere for co-existing and sharing first before being able to move ahead together, I think.

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