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Political smog is bad for your mental health

Don't go outside, people in the North have been warned, as smog has hit a dangerous level.

The same piece of advice is probably applicable to Thais in general regarding the upcoming political "smog" that is bound to descend on the country as the debate on proposed constitutional amendements gets underway.

Head of the Disease Control Department, Dr Pornthep Siriwanarangsan, issued this warning the other day: "Don't go out if you can't see the power pole in your neighbourhood during the day. That's a sign that the amount of small dust particles in the air has reached a dangerous level."

My own exhortation for my friends who follow politics very closely is: "Don't go out if you can't see what the debate on charter changes is all about. That's a sign that lots of proposals for amendment are up in the air. And that could be dangerous for real democracy. Hence the special care you must take while discussing this hot issue with friends."

This is no ordinary rewriting of the highest law of the land. It is being seen by its promoters in the ruling Pheu Thai Party as a drastic move to overhaul the political rules of the game to favour the dominant party and do away with checks and balances incorporated in the current constitution.

Some elements in the ruling party have already made known their final goals: Abolish the Constitution Court and the Administrative Court.

Opponents see this move as a clear attempt to pave the way for fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return and reclaim political power, with the remnants of any possible obstacles being wiped out in one sweep.

Advocates of the change argue that the current charter is the "poisonous fruit" of a "poisonous tree" - the 2006 coup - and they are clamouring for the return of the 1997 constitution, which they claim is more "democratic."

A heated debate in the joint session of Parliament earlier this week pointed to the potential divisiveness of the issue - not so much whether it's a good or bad thing to rewrite the charter, but more importantly, what's the "hidden agenda" in the whole exercise?

What appears to be "democratic" in form may in fact not be so in substance. The proposal to have one province elect a representative to be a member of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) is basically what electoral politics is all about. But political analysts are already predicting that the outcome of such a ballot would follow the pattern of the last general election. No matter what is said to the contrary, regarding the proposed neutrality of CDA members, political parties will have considerable influence in the voting outcome.

This is despite the provision that no politicians will be allowed to play any role in the election of CDA members - to give the image of "non-partisan" representation so that an "ideally democratic" charter can be drafted for a public referendum.

But things aren't always what they appear in politics, where the principle of "majority rules, minority rights" is often observed in its breach.

The political "smog" is therefore getting thicker - causing serious concern for me about the overall health of the general public. Because you can't see anything clearly - even in your daily debates with friends on this hot issue - the possibility of further turmoil caused by a new round of confrontation between supporters and opponents of the move is bound to intensify in the next few months.

The combination of political fog and smoke produced by both sides threatens to plunge the country into the abyss of confrontational violence yet again. So, take good care. Don't leave home unless the political visibility has improved to a reasonable degree.


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