Thailand’s referendum has installed the military junta for the long haul. But could it also be their undoing?
The result is out; it is back to 1978.
No surprises. Now the junta can gloat over its inevitable, foregone conquest and lecture the Western world about minding its own business, which they were quick to do after the win.
As one Thai person told me: “Well, maybe Thais now have the democracy they deserve!”
The suppression of free speech and critical debate around the referendum are well known, even begrudgingly among normally ‘yellow’ influenced Bangkok-based journalists.
It was clear that Thais were not given the details about the draft constitution, except those parts deemed suitable for public propaganda, and critiques of the draft were forbidden. Massive more-unpalatable sections of the translated version were left out.
If those sycophantic voters for the military’s constitution had no idea of the implication of their “yes” vote, in the not-too-distant-future they may soon think twice .
But the masses were never given the truth and many people continued to believe in the military-elite’s feel-good iron-fist nationalism. It all reminds me a little of a less tame version of Brexit.
That aside, more seriously, information from regional sources such as the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) indicates that the numbers were stacked at some crucial ballot centres, there were many more ballots that actual registered voters.
In one Bangkok district, for instance, there were 298 people coming to vote on the day and 335 ballots. There were no witnesses allowed at the ballot stations when the counting was carried out. (For a good summary see Prachatai).
It was reported (unofficially) that there were many more ballots that actual registered voters. In one Bangkok district for instance there were 298 people coming to vote on the day but 335 ballots counted. There were no witnesses allowed at the ballot stations when the counting was carried out.
It also appears that the kingdom was clearly divided along ancient divisions, with “Lanchang” (and the Northeast Region generally), Lanna (North) and Pattani, voting “no”, while the mid-southern (the PDRC stronghold) and central region voting “yes”.
But all may be not lost, despite the prospect of decades of dominant and repressive military rule ahead, and little chance of being able to amend the constitution – with the charter enshrining military ineffective coalition “governments”, unelected prime ministers, appointed senates, and so on.
At least this is the view of some red shirt leaders, such as exiled founder of the Organisation of Free Thai Network, Jakrapob Penkair (7 August 2016). He noted that the result was inevitable, “knowing the nature” of the amaat regime. But, he also outlined a few reasons for some optimism among all the gloom saying that the consequence of the new constitution will show to the world the true nature of the military-royal alliance and power.
The result will also encourage the pro-democracy (red) activists to reconcile as they have split into two primary factions over the past decade or so: the electoral faction and the revolutionary faction. While the electoral faction wanted elections quickly, the so-called revolutionary side ridiculed them (“revolutionary” in the sense of rhetoric not action).
Both sides he noted now need each other to establish a unified ideology and action, so as to bring power to the democracy movement. He said that the revolutionary faction did not understand the constraints that the previous elected governments were under, in the gaze of the amaat regime. These elected governments since 2005 had to work on the surface within the established legal framework. They had no real power to make lasting progressive changes being blocked at every turn.
Jakrapob noted that the situation now will enable a unified and systematic approach to bringing about democracy, liberty and rights in the coming decades. But do not hold your breath — it will be a long-term project.
Meanwhile, the evidence has been mounting about massive military corruption since the last coup, despite attempts to silence critics. The military junta takes a page from boxing, where the best form of defence is attack.
In regard to the politicised notion of getting rid of “kong” (cheating) or corruption, Jakrapob said let the military regime continue with their propaganda until the “san phra phum” eventually falls (literally “spirit house”, but an illusion to monarchy).
When we reach that time the truth will shock the nation from trivial matters such as which subordinates under “higher ups” are selling the soil of Parliament House at 300 Baht per square metre(a budget was allocated to build a new Parliament House), to bigger matters — including who owns the PTT Public Company Limited? Who benefits? Who is the real owner of Temasek Holdings?
Who is behind stopping the construction of the Kra Isthmus Canal (an economic opportunity always stopped)? And who is behind extensive real estate interests, taking land from the people which makes it hard to undertake effective land reform?
These are the people who are actually cheating the nation and yet no one dares to challenge this. Therefore, it is good that the military’s constitution puts “kong” in the charter, so that one day we can use this to expose the nation’s real cheats.
This is similar to the great Ayutthaya poet Sri Prat who said that the owner of the sword will eventually kill themselves with their own weapon. This time we are defeated in the game, but not in the battle with the regime (rabob).
But now that Thailand has now slipped back in time one thing is clear — this generation and possibly the next will have to continue the struggle for democracy.
Dr James L Taylor is Adjunct Associate Professor, Anthropology & Development Studies, University of Adelaide.