Constitution Drafting Committee member Jade Donavanik explains why the new charter should be Thailand's last
He might be the youngest of the individuals chosen to draft Thailand’s 20th Constitution but Jade Donavanik is far from being a new face and, at 42, more than makes up in experience what he lacks in years.
A law lecturer, he took part in the considerations of the 2007 Constitution after the 2006 coup and was later a member of the committee that came up with amendments to certain charter articles. He has also drafted or considered several laws.
Jade cannot recall how or even exactly when he became known as a political commentator and analyst. Perhaps it was when he started to write for a Thai newspaper as a regular political columnist. Or perhaps his fame stems from his career as a television anchor.
What is certain is that Jade has been under the spotlight as a political critic from the anti-Thaksin protest movement in 2006 to the latest protests.
Asked why he was picked by the Cabinet to be one of the 36 Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) members, he laughs, saying that it was probably because he has openly criticised the junta and political situation. His comment after the coup that General Prayut Chan-o-cha should not concurrently hold the post of premier was widely reported in the press.
The Chiang Mai native says he opted to study law because he wanted to help people. His father and grandfather encouraged him to pursue a career in law while his grandmother and his aunts wanted him to become a doctor.
“My father said most doctors are trustworthy while lawyers are the opposite. He added that we needed our own people, people who we could trust in such a mistrusted career,” he recalls.
Thus Jade headed to Thammasat University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in law before heading to Stanford University in the US for his master’s and doctorate in the Science of Law. He was just 26.
In 2000, he returned to Thailand and worked at the Science and Technology Ministry as an expert in bio technology. He later returned to his first love – the law – and assumed a position as law lecturer at Mahidol University International College. His next move saw him become dean of the Graduate School of Law at Siam University and today he is the dean of the Law Faculty at Dhurakij Pundit University.
Despite more than 15 years of involvement in intellectual property litigation and a wealth of experience in drafting laws and working with several veteran law academics, he says the drafting of the new Constitution is the biggest and most challenging task he has faced to date.
The challenge, he explains, lies in how to make the charter ideological rather than idealistic and ensure it is one that can be successfully implemented.
Jade describes himself as a contexualist and believes in a Constitutional convention rather than Constitutional law. He thinks the best way to implement a Constitution is to tune convention with context so they work in parallel.
While most people are focused on whether the new charter will be written in such a way as to eradicate the old power clique or the Thaksin regime, Jade holds a different view: he thinks the charter should serve as a scripture to “arm” the people and make them strong.
“We need to make the charter one that reflects the people’s power. In that way, politicians won’t dare to violate or abuse the people otherwise they will be expelled by the people,” he says.
He does, however, acknowledge that such a draft would be too extreme but stresses that the charter drafters need to build a “weapon” for the people and teach them how to use it.
“A precious weapon becomes scrap metal if you give it to those who don’t know how to use it. But in the hands of those who know how to use it, a leaf can turn into a magic sword,” he says.
Asked if the country’s ongoing political divide could be resolved solely with a new Constitution, he doesn’t hesitate for a second: “No way,” he says with emphasis.
“Religious scriptures are better written than any charter in the world but none of them can turn a man into a good man,” he says.
“It all depends on whether people do as the scriptures say. If they live in accordance with the scriptures, then the goodness will emerge. The same is true for the Constitution.”
“The road that lead to goodness exists but if people don’t walk on that road, it’s all over. The Constitution is a means but not the end in itself. It’s just a tool or road for people to follow the right way. It’s impossible for anyone to write a charter and create instant reconciliation. What is more important is that the charter is implemented to the letter,” he says.
In response to a question as to whether the junta will have failed if the new charter cannot help solve the divisions in the country, he merely repeats the old saying: “Every road leads to Rome but Rome was not built in one day”.
“The NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] is just drawing the map but has yet to build the road. Don't expect them to improve everything. That’s utopia. Everything depends on the people. If the people are strong the country will be stable," he says.
The new generation law expert sincerely hopes that the 20th charter, which is expected to be ratified and come into force is 2015, will be the country’s last, pointing out that the United States Constitution came into force in 1789 and has never been torn or redrafted though it has been amended 27 times.
“There’s nothing wrong if there are amendments later or committees appointed for amendment. But hopefully we [CDC] will be the last charter drafters and we will come up with a Constitution that stands forever. Twenty is a nice round figure,” Jade says with a smile.
“If, in the future, Thailand faces an incident that requires military intervention, the charter won’t be ripped up but temporarily suspended.
“If we tear it up again, the new charter will be nothing but a scrap of worthless paper,” he says.