Thailand delays return to democracy

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Democracy Monument Thailand
Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Thailand’s development towards a functioning democracy seems to be caught in a time warp.

Thailand’s military-backed legislature, the “National Reform Council (NRC)”, on September 6 rejected a widely unpopular draft of a new constitution. The country’s return to democracy after last year’s coup is now to suffer severe delays, and elections will likely not be held before 2017.

The NRC voted 135-105 with seven abstentions to reject the draft constitution. The rejection of the draft charter was expected following heavy lobbying over the past week, reportedly by NRC members closely linked to the military.

The NRC was created, along with the National Legislative Assembly and Constitution Drafting Committee, by the military junta when it took over power in a coup in May 2014.

The council is now to be disbanded, and the constitution-drafting process will have to start all over again with new committees yet to be appointed. A new 21-member drafting committee will be entrusted with writing a new charter within 180 days, which will need approval by the legislature and will be put to a referendum.

This means that elections aren’t likely to take place until at least 2017, if the next draft is successfully approved. The government had previously said elections could take place late next year.

However, many politicians and activists in Thailand criticised the draft as undemocratic anyway as it included the establishment of a committee comprised of the commanders of the army, navy, air force and national police, as well as a panel of experts, which would have been allowed to intervene in politics at any time of “national crisis.”

The draft also envisioned an Upper House that would only be partially elected, while 123 out of 200 members were to be appointed. A prime minister would also have been appointed without having to win a parliamentary seat.

Thailand’s previous 2007 constitution was also drafted by a junta-appointed council but approved by public referendum. It was annulled after the latest coup. The country is currently using a 2014 interim constitution drafted by the military junta.

Since 1932, when the absolute monarchy was abolished, Thailand has had 25 general elections and 19 coups d’état, 12 of them successful, having had more coups than any other countries on earth in contemporary history.

Many experts have tried to find a reason for this exceptional historical trend. Being an emerging country, and with its mixed features of autocracy and democracy, Thailand is particularly susceptible to coups as politics remain sharply polarised, as it has been in Thailand for nearly a decade now. With low levels of political education and civil engagement, there are no movements or incentives to make Thai political life a bit more diversified and politically innovative such as in the West with new parties continuously emerging as a result of social change (e.g. Greens, New Left, Young Liberals etc.). In Thailand, a paternalistic society, people are expecting their leaders to protect them and give them what they need, but they have difficulties if given any responsibility or freedom of choice.

As a result, political parties in Thailand are either populist (most of them), royalist, nationalist or conservative, while parties with a semblance of social opposition, liberal-reformist or leftist ideology remain powerless or haven been banned from participating in the political process, which makes real dialogue on a balanced political development impossible.

That way, while army interventions in Thai politics have had a variety of motives, the justification is usually the same: The military had to step in to restore order, give squabbling politicians a time-out, rearrange the constitution and start all over again, like in a time-warp, with little space left to built up a real democratic ecosystem where new and more progressive ideas could thrive.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Thailand’s development towards a functioning democracy seems to be caught in a time warp.

Thailand’s military-backed legislature, the “National Reform Council (NRC)”, on September 6 rejected a widely unpopular draft of a new constitution. The country’s return to democracy after last year’s coup is now to suffer severe delays, and elections will likely not be held before 2017.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Democracy Monument Thailand
Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Thailand’s development towards a functioning democracy seems to be caught in a time warp.

Thailand’s military-backed legislature, the “National Reform Council (NRC)”, on September 6 rejected a widely unpopular draft of a new constitution. The country’s return to democracy after last year’s coup is now to suffer severe delays, and elections will likely not be held before 2017.

The NRC voted 135-105 with seven abstentions to reject the draft constitution. The rejection of the draft charter was expected following heavy lobbying over the past week, reportedly by NRC members closely linked to the military.

The NRC was created, along with the National Legislative Assembly and Constitution Drafting Committee, by the military junta when it took over power in a coup in May 2014.

The council is now to be disbanded, and the constitution-drafting process will have to start all over again with new committees yet to be appointed. A new 21-member drafting committee will be entrusted with writing a new charter within 180 days, which will need approval by the legislature and will be put to a referendum.

This means that elections aren’t likely to take place until at least 2017, if the next draft is successfully approved. The government had previously said elections could take place late next year.

However, many politicians and activists in Thailand criticised the draft as undemocratic anyway as it included the establishment of a committee comprised of the commanders of the army, navy, air force and national police, as well as a panel of experts, which would have been allowed to intervene in politics at any time of “national crisis.”

The draft also envisioned an Upper House that would only be partially elected, while 123 out of 200 members were to be appointed. A prime minister would also have been appointed without having to win a parliamentary seat.

Thailand’s previous 2007 constitution was also drafted by a junta-appointed council but approved by public referendum. It was annulled after the latest coup. The country is currently using a 2014 interim constitution drafted by the military junta.

Since 1932, when the absolute monarchy was abolished, Thailand has had 25 general elections and 19 coups d’état, 12 of them successful, having had more coups than any other countries on earth in contemporary history.

Many experts have tried to find a reason for this exceptional historical trend. Being an emerging country, and with its mixed features of autocracy and democracy, Thailand is particularly susceptible to coups as politics remain sharply polarised, as it has been in Thailand for nearly a decade now. With low levels of political education and civil engagement, there are no movements or incentives to make Thai political life a bit more diversified and politically innovative such as in the West with new parties continuously emerging as a result of social change (e.g. Greens, New Left, Young Liberals etc.). In Thailand, a paternalistic society, people are expecting their leaders to protect them and give them what they need, but they have difficulties if given any responsibility or freedom of choice.

As a result, political parties in Thailand are either populist (most of them), royalist, nationalist or conservative, while parties with a semblance of social opposition, liberal-reformist or leftist ideology remain powerless or haven been banned from participating in the political process, which makes real dialogue on a balanced political development impossible.

That way, while army interventions in Thai politics have had a variety of motives, the justification is usually the same: The military had to step in to restore order, give squabbling politicians a time-out, rearrange the constitution and start all over again, like in a time-warp, with little space left to built up a real democratic ecosystem where new and more progressive ideas could thrive.

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