Referendum aftermath: next steps on the road to democracy

1_roadmap3On the heels of a national referendum in which Thai voters approved a new constitution, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy outlined the next steps that will lead to national elections for a new government next year, as environmental and community activists who opposed the new charter said last week they would press for their agendas to be included in organic laws.

“The referendum may be over but your mission and our mission is not over yet,” Prime Minister Prayut said during a speech broadcast on national television last week. He urged Thai citizens to work together to build a sustainable democratic system. “I would like us to leave our differences, those feelings of like and dislike, acceptance or disagreement in the ballot boxes and walk forward,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayut said the drafters of the new constitution would amend the charter to include changes to the role of the Senate approved by voters in a separate question on the referendum ballot two week ago. The changes include giving the appointed Senate a role in selecting the next prime minister and greater powers to monitor the government’s performance.

Once amended, the new constitution will be sent to the Constitutional Court for review before being submitted for royal assent. The entire process should take approximately three months, Prayut said. Once it is published in the Royal Gazette, the interim constitution now in effect will be void and the new charter will be the law of the land.

At that point, the charter drafting committee will begin work on writing and passing a set of organic laws to facilitate national elections for a new government by the end of next year.

Meechai Ruchupan, the head of the committee, said that the drafters would invite politicians to share their ideas on organic laws. The committee will focus on four essential laws involving the election of members of parliament, the appointment of senators, the formation of the Election Commission, and rules government political parties.

Once those laws are passed, political parties will be allowed to resume normal activities and begin campaigning. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan denied rumors that all parties would need to re-register, essentially forcing them to start from scratch and re-organize. “That is not on the government’s agenda,” he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that Prime Minister Prayut repeatedly stressed to everyone involved in the process that elections must be held by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, environmental and community rights activists, who generally opposed the charter, vowed that they would devote their energies to convincing the drafters to include more rights and protections on the issues they are concerned with in the organic laws.

Surachai Trongngam of the Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants Foundation secretary-general said the new charter’s passage was not the end of efforts by community rights campaigners.

“There are still some parts of the charter and related laws that people can apply to protect themselves,” Surachai said.