Army's record spurs suspicion
A public statement on its preferred constitution might ease growing doubts
Public suspicion appears to have been aroused ever since the idea of allowing a non-elected prime minister was floated last week for the new constitution.
Despite repeated denials by Prasong Soonsiri, chairman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), that no such hidden agenda exists - to enable the military junta to extend their grip on power beyond this year's election - doubts are not only lingering, but look to be growing.
Yesterday, former senator and Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) member Chirmsak Pinthong, chairman of a sub-panel on public hearings, reminded the drafting committee and Prasong during a meeting that local people in virtually every province he met to seek their input, suspect the drafters already have a blueprint in mind.
"Whatever province I visited, I was met with so much suspicion," Chirmsak said.
It should come as no surprise as to why this suspicion persists.
First of all, the drafting assembly and drafting committee are all directly or indirectly appointed by the Council for National Security (CNS).
Second, no matter what one might say about positive aspects of the new charter, the fact remains that the context for drafting is being done under the auspices of the junta who staged a coup last September and nullified the 1997's 'People's Constitution'.
The junta also set up a nasty rule that stated that if the new charter is rejected in a referendum set for later this year, the CNS had the power to choose any old charter and adapt it whichever way they see fit.
Such a clause, stipulated under the interim 2006 constitution penned directly by the junta, amounts to a kind of blackmail, because those who may wish to reject the new charter could run the risk of giving the junta an opportunity to opt for a charter from decades past that may be draconian and regressive.
So far, the junta has failed to state or commit itself publicly to the particular constitution they would prefer to resurrect and what kind of amendments would make - if the one now being drawn up is rejected in a public referendum.
While the new charter will likely limit the potential abuse by politicians and political parties in the future, the drafters have so far failed to discuss how or even why there's a need to limit potential abuse of power by the military - through a secret fund, such as that which enabled the recent coup, or other possible means.
One drafter often speaks contemptuously of the majority of the people as being an "ignorant and uneducated lot" during CDC meetings, while at the same time telling fellow drafters that he dare not question the junta. He told fellow drafters last week that he was not for egalitarian society.
As if the footprints of the military's top boots are not visible enough, a key member of the CNS told the public last week that a further coup could not be ruled out.
This led to a conspiracy theory that perhaps the drafters want to produce a new charter that will be rejected by the public - so they are free to impose their own.
If the charter is rejected, chaos could follow and give the military further excuse to stage another crackdown and extend their rule beyond this year.
Some military officers are more honest than others, however.
On Wednesday, an army colonel asked Prasong during a seminar organised by the armed forces on the new charter, whether there was a way to stage a coup without having to tear up the constitution now being drafted.
Prasong told the officer and others at the conference that they must think for themselves, because he's not a coup leader.
It's difficult to understand why a person like Pichian Amnajwora-prasert, a former PR chief for the drafting assembly who resigned from that post early this week, could repeat his favourite phrase again and again for the TV cameras that this charter was "by the people, for the people and of the people", when some in the print media are referring to the new charter as the "Tank Constitution".
The third factor is that mistrust towards both the military and politicians has a long history.
A decade and a half ago, Gen Suchinda Kraprayoon, then leader of the 1991 coup, told the nation on TV that he would not seek the post of prime minister - only to do the exact opposite when the majority of elected MPs presented him with the opportunity. The constitution at that time did not bar a non-MP from taking up the position.
Suchinda's administration didn't even last a year, as he was forced to resign after a popular revolt that ended in bloodshed in May 1992.
So, for people like Prasong and other drafters to insist that no right-minded person would present "outsiders" to the top position doesn't hold water, given that it has happened in the past.
The fourth and last factor is that people should not always take what others say at face value. The idea of saying one thing but thinking otherwise is a common and integral part of the Thai cultural norm. They refer to it as "the mouth and heart not matching" (pak kab jai mai trong kan).
That's why many people didn't make such a big deal out of the junta's leader and CNS chairman Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin's pre-coup statements that the time for staging a coup was truly over - only for him to lead the military's first direct intervention in politics for 15 years.
His supporters say you can't blame Gen Sonthi for lying, because "nobody with a right mind can seriously expect Gen Sonthi to say: "Yeah, I will soon stage a coup and overthrow my boss Thaksin Shinawatra!"
And so nobody with a right mind should expect any of the 35 charter drafters to confess anytime soon that this charter is a constitution - indirectly written - by the military, for the military and of the military.
At least, not just yet.