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Why the draft charter should be rejected

The junta-sponsored draft constitution is a sham in terms of its process and inception, and its content will enable the military and bureaucracy to rule over people largely unchecked.

Published on August 17, 2007

But, most importantly, a clear message needs to be sent to the generals that citizens are not subjects to be ruled through a form of managed pseudo-democracy and that we will play no role in encouraging more military intervention in the future.

Soon after the current junta staged an illegitimate military coup - not that there is such a thing as a legitimate coup - their fingerprints were all over the process that led to the new constitution. It starts with the fact that they either directly or indirectly appointed all members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) and the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). Some are friends and unabashed supporters of the junta. Two of the charter drafters are election commissioners - and will be overseeing the referendum on Sunday.

Also, the very people who tore up the 1997 "People's Charter" last September, suddenly claim that they are for a supreme law. General Sonthi Boonyaratglin claims he staged the coup to help "restore democracy", only to, nearly a year later, keep the public and media guessing as to whether he will run for office or not. Time and again during the meetings of the drafting committee, members of the press heard patronising remarks from some drafters who said that people are too uneducated and ignorant to decide their own faith - so roughly half of the Senate would be appointed by a small committee under the new charter.

Then there's the way the Council for National Security has blackmailed the public by not revealing which old charter it would revive and how it would amend it if their draft is rejected on Sunday. The junta's message is clear: Accept this draft, or else.

There will also be no third box on the ballot for those who want to reject the process altogether. The Election Commission lamely claims that by the time they were told about it, it was too late to make changes.

Campaigns against the junta's draft charter have been harassed by the junta-appointed government and stickers against the draft on taxis have been made illegal.

The government, instead of playing it neutral, has launched campaigns and mass demonstrations to cajole people into voting 'yes'.

About half of the country's provinces remain under the martial law.

Content-wise, the draft charter, aside from not trusting the people to elect all senators, also drags the judiciary into politics by giving them the power to appoint members of so-called independent organisations.

Most of the freedoms that are claimed to be in the draft charter are subject to suspension by the Internal Security Bill, which the junta and its government are trying to pass.

Also, the draft stipulates a big boost to military budgets, by requiring future governments to spend more on arms while no new checks and balances will be put in place to keep the military from meddling in politics again.

There are positive aspects to the draft and some of its drafters are well intentioned. However, when we consider the larger picture of what the junta-sponsored draft charter and referendum is all about, then it must be rejected because to encourage would be tantamount to legitimising last September's coup, and encouraging more coups in the future.

Some may want us to believe that we have to choose between the lesser of two evils - Thaksin Shinawatra and the coup-loving generals. But we can start paving the way for a third choice. This alternative will lay the foundation for citizens' self reliance and a democracy not informed by patronage politics.

The road to fixing Thai democracy is rough and winding and demands that citizens adhere to what is legitimate. We cannot right things by committing more wrongs or creating more problems in the long run. Let us try to end this vicious cycle of coups and killing constitutions.

An end to this cycle has to start somewhere. I say it can start this Sunday by citizens telling the generals that we will not allow them to drag Thailand further into a Dark Age in which citizens are ruled and oppressed as subjects, and the cycle of coups is perpetuated. There may be no easy way out after the referendum but let us send a clear message to the junta that their time is over. This 'No' vote is not just for us but for history as well as posterity - so that one day this land may be governed under a genuine democracy and people shall enjoy their rights and liberties.

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation

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