Concerns raised over referendum aftermath
On July 20th the Platform of Concerned Citizens (PCC), a civil society group consisting of 16 organisations and 117 individuals, released a five-point statement which included calls for open debate on the draft constitution and the disclosure of a contingency plan should the proposed charter not pass a referendum.
The PCC’s statement comes amid mounting unease among political actors over the preparedness of the country for the referendum and its aftermath should it fail to be approved by the public. So far the military government has not publicly set out a process to continue the planned transition back to democracy following a possible “no” vote, other than to state that a new constitution draft would be written, a point re–emphasised by the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, at a press conference on July 21st. However, the junta has previously stated that it could revert to one of Thailand’s previous constitutions should the charter not pass a referendum.
The Economist intelligence Unit believes that the junta will outline a shorter time frame for a new constitution to be drafted than the previous 20-month schedule and use a previous charter as a basis. We expect the inclusion of a public-consultation mechanism in the process, in an effort to reduce popular opposition to the prolonged transition; the PCC’s recent statement called for more stakeholders to be included in the drafting process. However, this may take a form other than a referendum, such as a representative advisory committee.
The junta will not be averse to extending the transition process, as this would allow it more time to attempt to convince the Thai public that it offers more effective economic and political governance than recent elected administrations. However, there is no indication that it has gained political legitimacy in the eyes of the public and will therefore probably have to negotiate larger and more frequent protests, as more citizens become convinced that the junta will not give up control voluntarily. Additionally, the possibility of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death occurring while the junta is in power represents a downside risk to the transition back to democracy: the military government may use this as justification for extending its rule under the pretext of ensuring political stability.
Impact on the forecast
We still expect a “no” vote in the August 7th referendum. The constitution-drafting process will be reinitiated and the military will remain in complete control of government until at least early 2018.