Thai Junta’s Charter Referendum in Doubt

Despite the Thai junta’s extraordinary efforts to quell opposition to its Aug. 7 referendum on a new constitution – more likely to be a referendum on the junta itself – it may not pass or the military might be forced to withdraw it, according to sources in Bangkok.

The document has been in the making for more than a year. And although the junta is seeking to leave nothing to chance, including commissioning a song extolling its virtues, passage is not a sure thing for a document that is universally regarded as only designed to perpetuate the military in power and which is generating underground opposition that could derail it.

 There is reason for the military’s concern. Last September, the junta’s own hand-picked National Legislative Assembly turned down an earlier version of the document because of its sweeping powers for the military.

The proposed charter creates a 250-member Senate appointed by the military. A supplemental question asks voters if they agree to allow the Senate to play an equal role to the democratically elected lower House in voting for the  appointment of the prime minister. Such arrangements, combined with other provisions on elections in the constitution that many observers believe will result in many smaller parties contesting power in the lower house, would make the appointed Senate incredibly powerful. It would also give the military, currently holding power through the National Council for Peace and Order, the de facto power to steer the country as it pushes forward on a larger, 20-year military development program that is still being put together.