We have been told that approval of the Thai junta’s draft constitution in the referendum scheduled for 19 August will pave the way for national elections. As Thai Rat’s editorial noted yesterday, it seems likely that the promise of elections to come, and a semblance of political normality, will be sufficient to persuade many voters to vote “yes” in the referendum whatever concerns they may have about the charter’s weak points.

But is the take-it-or-leave-it constitutional offer of the junta worth supporting? Does the prospect of an election sooner rather than later justify endorsement of the draft charter? I think it doesn’t. Nor do I think the constitution should be judged simply on the merits of its various provisions. Because what voters are being asked to endorse amounts to much more…

What Thai voters are being asked to endorse is a process whereby constitutions are only as good as the limit of military tolerance. In the wake of the September 2006 coup, the promise of a future election is hollow, precisely because the reinvigorated threat of a coup strips legitimacy and moral force from the electoral process. The explicit request of the junta is that Thai voters endorse a constitution; but the implicit request is that they endorse the future abrogation of that very document if it delivers a government unpalatable to those who wield the power to overthrow it.

The weakness of the junta’s referendum campaign is that the constitutional destroyers are now posing as legislative guardians. The poachers are posing as gamekeepers. No wonder they are so keen to restrict the activities of those campaigning for a “no” vote in the referendum. Rejection of the charter itself is a minor concern. A much more alarming prospect for the junta is that the constitutional referendum will become a judgement about the legitimacy of their extra-constitutional intervention. Yellow ribbons may muddy the water somewhat but they cannot hide their hypocrisy.

[UPDATE: I should have linked to this very useful Asia Sentinel article on the constitution and the referendum.]