The Thai junta has proposed that a constitution drafting committee insert a clause in the new charter allowing the military to extend its hold on power until after a new elected government is established, local media reported Friday.
“There should be a transitional phase, which may not be for too long, and is for the sake of keeping peace and order,” said the junta proposal, included among fifteen others, submitted to the drafting committee.
The National Council for Peace and Order – or NCPO, the junta’s official name – attempted to justify the proposal on the grounds that allowing the extension of its “special powers” would permit it to intervene in case a political crisis arises after the elections.
“Special powers” refers to article 44 of the interim charter, currently in application, which allows the country’s junta chief-cum-prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, to issue any orders deemed necessary to maintain national security, without oversight from executive, legislative or judicial powers.
Thailand’s previous constitution was abolished after the junta seized power following massive anti-government demonstrations against the elected government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The current version of the draft charter – which was released on Jan. 29 – already includes a clause allowing the military regime to prolong its stay in power until the establishment of a new elected government.
A new administration would likely be sworn in at the beginning of 2018 at earliest, as elections are planned for October or November next year.
The latest attempt at extending the military’s rule has prompted immediate reactions from political parties and civil society organizations.
Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the pro-royal establishment Democrat Party, told the Bangkok Post, “if they are concerned about the situation after the general election and they want special powers to handle a problem, my question is for how long?”
The chairman of a group for relatives of people killed in May 1992 demonstrations against the government of coup-maker General Suchinda Kraprayoon – which were crushed by the military – said he thought “the NCPO is thinking too much about a political crisis”.
Referring to the legal expert leading the charter drafting body, Adul Khiewboriboon of the Black May 1992 Victims Association told the Post, “I tried to warn that it would be impossible to obtain democracy with Meechai Ruchupan taking charge of the drafting.”
He added, “I am concerned we could be going back to May 1992. I am seeing a pattern here.”
On Monday, 61 former members of the National Reform Council, a now defunct military-appointed assembly that had voted down an earlier draft charter last September, also criticized the new version for “giving too much power to the state and restricting the rights of the citizens”.
Earlier this month, representatives of several civil society organizations engaged in similar discourse during an NGO seminar on the draft charter.
Phairoj Pholphet, an adviser to the People’s Reform Council, warned at the seminar that the draft charter “only strengthens state authorities and reduces people’s power”.
“Community rights should have been maintained in the new charter in determining economic development, conservation and restoration of traditions,” he added.
The draft must be finalized by March 29 before being submitted to a referendum in July.
The junta announced Thursday that it would deploy nationwide 100,000 territorial defense students – young people with a few weeks of military training a year – in order to explain the referendum process to the people.
These military students are also due to be present at all voting booths during the referendum to “assist the voters”.
Army chief General Thirachai Nakwanich assured Thursday that these students would not try to influence the vote of the people, but only “encourage them to vote in the referendum, regardless of whether they support or oppose the draft”.
Thailand has had 14 charters or constitutions since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932, many adopted following the 18 previous military coups.