What you need to know
Politicians from around Southeast Asia have hit out at the constitutional referendum taking place in Thailand on Sunday.
Thailand’s upcoming constitutional referendum will entrench the military’s political control, undermine elected representatives and strip communities of their rights, according to the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
On Sunday, voters will vote "yes" or "no" on whether to accept a draft constitution, and whether members of the Thai parliament’s upper house can join the lower house in selecting a prime minister. If a new constitution is adopted, it will be Thailand’s 20th since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932.
As the Wall Street Journal summarizes, “Supporters say it will help stabilize one of Asia’s most volatile nations but critics argue that the new charter is simply a way for the military to strengthen its already considerable hold on power.”
Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian parliament and APHR chairperson, says the referendum process has been marred by harassment and intimidation of opponents to the ruling, military-backed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
APHR points to “increasingly arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly” in the lead-up to Sunday’s vote, including the cancelling of public events, and a crackingdown on activists, politicians and journalists who are critical of the charter.
“It’s a forced vote at the barrel of a gun following a campaign in which the authorities have sought to actively thwart informed debate,” Santiago says.
APHR also notes the military has restricted election monitoring, arresting at least 38 people for their involvement setting up electoral fraud monitoring centers across the country.
“The junta has failed to heed any requests for a fair and open debate and stubbornly ignored basic international standards for conducting this kind of referendum,” says Walden Bello, a former Philippines Congressman from APHR board member.
According to The Guardian, “A ‘Yes’ vote would allow the military-backed NCPO to claim legitimacy and prepare for elections slated irrespective of outcome for mid-2017. However, in the event of a rejected charter the NCPO would be obliged to offer another option, which could take months.”
APHR is also wary that the military leaders – who took power in a 2014 coup – including Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha, have vowed to stay in power if the draft charter is rejected.
“It seems that the Thai people are damned if they do and damned if they don’t approve this constitution,” Bello says. “General Prayuth and his council of elders clearly have no intention of willingly ceding their grip on power, and so they have provided the Thai people not with a clear choice, but a dangerous catch-22.”
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole