Even very occasional New Mandala readers will be aware of our continuing interest in the politics of rural areas of mainland Southeast Asia. Describing, discussing and debating those politics – from both local and national perspectives – is one of New Mandala‘s core themes. A brief search of our archive finds dozens of relevant pieces that will help to provide context for today’s brief post. The Nation‘s recent report on Andrew’s seminar in Bangkok also highlights many of the enduring themes.

New Mandala has, as regular readers will know, been particularly critical of efforts – both before and after the 19 Sepetmber coup – to portray Thailand’s rural voters as politically unsophisticated. It was, therefore, with much interest that I read today’s The Nation. It carries an editorial, headlined “Charter pressure on rural people“, that describes the upcoming referendum to decide whether Thailand accepts the junta’s draft constitution.

The editorial asks, “Has there been enough of a learning curve to prepare Thailand’s rural masses for this?” According to The Nation, “Adding ideological questions…could be too much for the majority to take”.

The Nation also asserts that:

One thing is certain: the referendum will be a political war. And this war is not about winning the hearts of the rural people; it’s about how to control, mobilise or manipulate them. The military regime has sent propaganda teams to the villages to convince the people that the draft should be accepted unconditionally. Its opponents will also be mobilising all of their resources to convince the same people that the draft should be rejected regardless of its contents. The rural masses will be trapped in the middle of a power game in which they had no interest.

They will be learning about democracy the hard way, and we can only hope the opposing sides do not confuse them to death.

Theatrical flourishes aside, what do New Mandala readers think?

Will this referendum so baffle rural Thais that they can’t grasp the key issues? Is it really true that the “the rural masses will be trapped in the middle of a power game in which they had no interest”? Since the 1997 constitution was promulgated haven’t rural Thais already learned a great deal about democracy? If they haven’t already – how is it that a royalist, military junta will be in any position to teach them?