Thai junta aims to win over public on new charter

New working group to also include inputs from other countries to help the transition

The junta has set up a new working group to help boost the public's understanding about the new constitution and to incorporate the experiences of foreign countries in the new Thai charter.

General Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as leader of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), issued an order dated April 9 to form the working group.

The move came after criticisms and concerns that the new charter may not help solve Thailand's political crisis and instead obstruct the country's political development.

The junta has established a panel to compile a list of foreign experts and academics on the subjects of politics, charter drafting, reform and reconciliation and gather their opinions and knowledge, so it can be applied to the Kingdom during this period of transition.

The panel consists of members of the so-called "five rivers" in administration, namely the NCPO, the Cabinet, National Legislative Assembly (NLA), National Reform Council (NRC) and the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).

The panel also includes the secretaries from the King Prajadhipok's Institute and Council of State as well as the Foreign Ministry's permanent secretary. Members of the NCPO lead the panel.

Apart from gathering the viewpoints of foreign experts, the panel is also tasked with further studying the 1997 and 2007 constitutions to find the defects that led to political crises in the past.

Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist from Thammasat University, yesterday voiced support for the NCPO's plan to set up this panel, saying it would create a better understanding without misinterpretation.

With many opposing the new charter, "informing people about the true intentions of this draft might be a good strategy", he said.

The academic said he agreed with bringing in foreign experts, adding that other countries should also be informed about the content of the new charter.

The country is entering a vital period of transition, with the CDC set to debate the draft charter with the NRC next week, before it is passed on to the NCPO.

After studying the draft, the NCPO will then decide if the draft should undergo a public plebiscite, which will take at least six months before an election can be held. The next general election is expected to be held in April next year.

Theeraphat Serirangsan, president of the Political Development Council of Thailand (PDC), has warned that the new charter might become a "fake" one if it is rejected by the general public.

Hence, he said, it is more important for the charter drafters to focus on public opinion, rather than those from officials of the "five rivers".

The charter drafting process should not be prejudiced or biased toward a certain faction or on drafters' personal opinions, Theeraphat said.

He also pointed out that there were several controversial issues in the charter, such as the acquisition of the PM, the provision that allows an "outsider PM" and the acquisition of MPs.

He said a recent survey led by the PDC showed that more than 70 per cent of people believe that the premier should be directly elected, while 55 per cent believe senators should be directly elected.

These opinions are contrary to the provisions in the charter that allow MPs to elect a non-MP candidate to become the PM, and that a large majority of the senators would be appointed from different social groups.

The survey involved 1,478 respondents on the topic of "How to Create a Stable Democracy".