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Hard talk: Anti-charter campaign smacks of sour grapes

So the die-hard supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra want the referendum on the draft constitution this Sunday to be reduced to a choice between the former prime minister and a political future without him.

Published on August 14, 2007

It is probably the only remaining card that they hope will help sway opinion among people who they believe are still loyal to Thaksin.

They are obviously banking on the 14 million votes that swept Thaksin back to power in the election in 2005. Convinced that their former political boss is still widely popular among the rural folk, the Thai Rak Thai remnants apparently hope their latest message can help prompt these people to reject the draft charter. 

But their "vote no" campaign is at best a self-serving political endeavour.  While a defeat of the draft constitution will be nothing less than a slap in the face for the Council for National Security, it will not in any way change the political landscape. With or without the newly-drafted constitution, Thaksin will not be able to set foot in this country again in the foreseeable future - let alone make a political comeback.

It's probably a coincidence that the ex-Thai Rak Thai members' campaign came on the heels of charges that there were attempts to bribe at least two judges on the Constitution Tribunal to sway its ruling in the electoral fraud case against the former ruling party. It doesn't require the most intelligent of political pundits to see the connection between the two events.

While the police have yet to conduct a full investigation into the bribery charges, it's already public knowledge that someone was trying to rig the court's ruling. The investigation centres on a police colonel and a senior member of the judiciary known for their close ties to the former administration. 

Though few people expect the investigation to eventually unmask the mastermind behind the bribery attempt, it's already known who would have benefited the most if the court's ruling had gone the other way over the much-publicised fraud allegations in the snap April 2 general election. Two favourable votes would have saved the entire Thai Rak Thai leadership from being politically disqualified for five years.

In hindsight, the unfolding bribery investigation helps explain the "political sixth sense" that drove then acting Thai Rak Thai leader Chaturon Chaisaeng to confidently declare that he and his colleagues were prepared to accept whatever decision was made by the Constitution Tribunal. But his display of political confidence was short-lived. As soon as the tribunal decided to dissolve the party and impose a political ban on the entire Thai Rak Thai leadership, Chaturon declared the ruling a product of military dictatorship.

Of course, had the tribunal decided to reverse the political ban on the 111 Thai Rak Thai executives (read: if the bribery succeeded), these same executives would be busy preparing for the promised election - although under a new political banner - instead of working to derail the draft constitution. Before the ruling, they were confident that a Thai Rak Thai leadership that remained intact would stand a good chance of regaining power through an election - and subsequently be in position to restore their disgraced leader. 

The decision of the tribunal had the effect of splintering the once mighty ruling party. Those still loyal to Thaksin, who are now regrouping under the banner of the People's Power Party, know that they are too weak to make an impact in the election, while others who have defected are unlikely to rally around Thaksin again. 

So for these TRT remnants, it's not the constitution that is the real issue. It's the prospect that they will be rejected in the election that has prompted them to oppose the draft. Their campaign is essentially a symbolic act of defiance against the junta and an exercise aimed at political survival rather than a sincere political undertaking to promote democracy.

There is a lot of hypocrisy involved in the ongoing campaign against the draft constitution by the Thai Rak Thai die-hards. Those who are crying foul over what they claim to be an undemocratic constitution are the same people who had no qualms about serving an administration that was bent on destroying the constitutional spirit.  They kept silent as they watched Thaksin undermine practically all the mechanisms of checks and balances that formed the basis of the 1997 Constitution.

It is therefore exceedingly presumptuous for these Thaksin supporters to present Thai people with the choice between constitution and their former political master, who they want to portray as a democratic symbol. Their own political records clearly betray their trumpeting about democracy.

While the new constitution may not offer an answer to all the political problems, it is much less sinister than they are trying to portray it to be. But if the referendum is to be a contest between a new political dawn and a return of Thaksin then the choice would be clear-cut.

A vote for the charter may not immediately put the country back on track to democracy but would at least set the stage for a less polarised and less despotic political environment. But a vote against - "for Thaksin" - would mean a vote for a return to a system in which electoral fraud and bribing of judges are part of the norm.

Thepchai Yong

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