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Charter foes see victory in defeat

Reactions to the referendum results from advocates of the "Vote No" campaigns are far from those of losers. In fact, many were celebrating that more than 40 per cent of voters had rejected the charter as they monitored vote-counting late into the night.

Published on August 20, 2007

"It's a wonderful surprise that the "No" vote count is as high as 40 per cent," said Asst Prof Somchai Preechasilpakul, dean of Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Law and prominent supporter of the anti-charter campaign. "I personally expected a maximum of 30 per cent. So I'm more than pleased with the initial results."

Other supporters of the anti-charter campaigns expressed similar pleasant astonishment at the referendum result.

"This is amazing," said Pitch Pongsawat of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science. "We would have called our campaign a success with only with one million 'no' votes. The government's biased support to the charter was no secret. People who disagreed with the charter had to vote under all forms of threat and pressure from the state.

"Such a narrow margin between the 'yes' and 'no' votes makes us wonder what the result would have been if the plebiscite were held in a democratic atmosphere and a trustworthy Election Commission," Somchai added.

Somchai, who is also a leader of the think-tank Midnight University, questioned the EC's conflict of interest in pushing for the charter to be passed. Two EC members were drafters of the charter, and the commissioners will be entitled to stay in office for seven years if it is adopted.

Uchane Cheangsan, a leading member of the September 19 Network Against the Coup, said the losers in this plebiscite were the Council for National Security and the junta-appointed government. Even with all forms of control and one-sided public information, the junta could not achieve a clear victory, he said.

"And please don't simply brand those who voted 'no' as Thaksin's admirers. I think most of us who rejected the constitution today share the common stance that we are against the coup and military rule," he said.

Uchane said the high number of "no" votes, especially in the North and Northeast, clearly reflected the power of the people. Many provinces in these two regions are under martial law and strict military control. The way the state condemned these people for "selling" their votes was a reflection of the government's failure to make the process clean.

And not all the 60 per cent who voted "yes" agreed with the draft charter, added Naruemon Thabchumpon of Chulalongkorn University. Many might simply have wanted to see the political process move on by having an election, but might not have agreed with the contents of the charter.

"We, the anti-charter campaigners, will use this as an opportunity to demand a commitment from politicians who will run in the next election to amend the constitution towards a political reform that reduces the power of bureaucracy and increases the power of the people," he said.

Nantiya Tangwisutijit,

Subhatra Bhumiprabhas

The Nation

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