From the Economist (other than adding a note about the source of statement from the PM’s office and also the statement from the EU.)
The people have spoken, albeit in a muted and contrived fashion. In a closely-controlled constitutional referendum held in Thailand on August 7th, 61% of voters endorsed a charter promoted by the army (which has held power since a coup in 2014). Turnout was low, at 55%. The constitution will keep the armed forces in power long into the future.
The results stunned pro-democracy campaigners, who had believed that the charter (Thailand’s most regressive yet, drawn up without public participation) would face fierce opposition in the polls. But the main political parties, who had recommended rejecting the constitution, have accepted the result.
The charter introduces new electoral rules designed to produce weak coalition governments, which will be chaperoned by “independent” commissions (stacked with the junta’s allies) who are to monitor politicians’ policies and moral conduct. The army will fully select the senate; assuming its support, the generals will need to persuade only a quarter of legislators in the lower house to back their choice of prime minister, who need not be an MP. The hurdles to amending the constitution are prohibitive.
The junta celebrated pompously. It released a statement (see above) calling the vote a “pinnacle” reached through many years of “great toil”, and expressing contempt for foreigners (such as America, the UN and the European Union) who had criticised the process.
AFP noted that the statement came from the Thai PM’s spokesman on a Line group for journalists.
The generals had banned campaigners from opposing the charter, and in the run-up to polling day deployed 700,000 people, including bureaucrats and soldiers, to help “explain” it to voters.
Only one-third of all eligible voters, or 15m people, voted “Yes”—not an astounding figure, given the resources the junta had poured into ensuring the right result. But the proportion of the vote in favour was larger than the 57% who backed the previous constitution—itself introduced by the armed forces after a coup in 2006 that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecoms tycoon turned prime minister who now lives in self-imposed exile.
Voters in Isaan, a rural province which remains full of Mr Thaksin’s fans, turned down the charter, but only narrowly (51.4% v 48.6%). A firmer rejection came from the three Muslim-majority provinces in Thailand’s far south, where separatists have waged a long-running guerrilla war.
Winning the referendum brings the generals a step closer to their goal of eradicating the lingering influence of Mr Thaksin, whose parties have won every election since 2001 but will be disadvantaged under the new rules. The constitution locks out politicians while restoring a dusty “bureaucratic polity” in which the army provides stability, the monarchy legitimacy, and bureaucrats keep things running. This will not be good for the economy, which already looks sluggish compared to its neighbours. The IMF reckons that Thailand’s potential growth has slowed from 5% in the mid-2000s to 3% over the past five years.
Many “Yes” voters may have calculated that even a heavily-handicapped democracy is better than more years of straightforward military rule. But a good number genuinely favour a revival of patriarchal governance, convinced that popular politics is endemically corrupt. Under Thailand’s new constitution, only “decent” people who are ostensibly outside politics will be left in position to provide moral leadership.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former general who serves as Thailand’s prime minister, has said that elections will be held in late 2017. That seems possible but unlikely. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on the throne since 1946, is very ill. His death would give the generals an excuse to push back the timetable for elections, if they so wish.
Thais, foreigners and investors no longer need fear the churning of Thailand’s vicious cycle of elections, protests and coups—at least for a little while. The new system keeps the generals firmly in charge, and will allow them to remove governments without the hassle of mobilising tanks. The referendum has made their coup permanent. But it has not solved any of the deep social divisions which make Thailand’s politics so combustible.
Separately and earlier today the EU issued a “Statement by the Spokesperson on the constitutional referendum in Thailand”
On 7 August, the Election Commission reported that, in a national referendum, a large majority of the people of Thailand have voted in favour of the proposed constitution. During the campaign period, however, there were serious limitations to fundamental freedoms, including restrictions on debate and campaigning.
It is essential that the current restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly are lifted to allow for an open, inclusive and accountable political process. The EU continues to call upon the Thai authorities to create the conditions for a genuine democratic transition leading to early general elections. All main stakeholders in Thailand need to engage in an inclusive dialogue and work together peacefully towards this aim.