Thailand’s constitutional referendum is the junta’s first demonstration of sufficiency democracy in action.
Less than a year ago, anti-Thaksin and pro-coup advocates were very keen to discredit the validity of the electoral process. Electoral politics was condemned and electors were slandered as uninformed, parochial and self-interested pawns of party canvassers.
Now, in an act that would be laughable if not for its hypocrisy, electors are being urged to return to the voting booths and to cast their votes in a process that, according to puppet-PM Surayud, will help secure Thailand’s democratic development.
So what has changed? The fact that on this occasion voters have no meaningful choice may have something to do with it. The referendum is a take-it-or-leave-it offer: if you want elections and a semblance of stability then vote yes. For those considering a no vote there is only the option of handing power to the constitutional vandals to nominate a constitution of their choosing. Unlike the referendums that most of us are used to, in this case there is no clearly defined constitutional status quo that would be the outcome of a successful no vote.
So, the advocates of sufficiency democracy are very happy to urge electoral participation when the electorate really has no choice. It is a farcical situation that will undermine Thailand’s international credibility. Within Thailand it is being packaged with a thick yellow wrapping of royal symbolism. If the king is uncomfortable about this apparent royal endorsement, he has made no effort to signal his concerns. Sufficiency democracy may be a less marketable aspect of his legacy than sufficiency economy.