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Chorus builds for national referendum on next constitution

Politicians and academics are calling for a public referendum to gauge whether voters support the new constitution once it is drafted.

They say that by holding a referendum, the junta would allow people to have the final say on whether they approve of the proposals of the National Reform Council (NRC).

Pornson Liengboonlertchai, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said a national plebiscite on the new charter was critical to ending the political conflict.

"Not only would the referendum make sure of people's approval, but it would also indirectly ask conflicting parties if they accept the proposal. This is a very important measure to ensure there will be no further conflict or resistance," he said.

A constitution is like society's structure - the reason it was torn up so many times in the past is because people rejected society's structure, he said.

The 11 selection committees for the 250 NRC members were unveiled on Wednesday night with the junta's key advisers and associates heading each of them, prompting reservations over the council's representative balance and credibility.

Some key political groups including the Pheu Thai, Democrat and Chart Thai Pattana parties have said they will not nominate candidates for the NRC.

That also raised doubts about whether those excluded from the process will accept the charter approved by the NRC.

The NRC's mandate is to propose a framework for the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, another Chulalongkorn political scientist, suggested a "supra-majority" rule requiring three-quarters of votes to pass the constitution. This means a charter must gain overwhelming public support.

The idea of using a referendum as the final judgement on a new charter was welcomed by former Democrat MPs Wirat Kalayasiri and Chavanond Intarakomalyasut. Politicians are representatives of the people, so they should recognise the charter passed by the people through a referendum, they said.

Utain Shartpinyo, leader of the Khon Thai Party, rejected the notion that a referendum could be an accurate yardstick of public endorsement.

"People might not be ready to make a rational decision because they lack access to complete information, or the ability to analyse critically and reflect on such information. Therefore, they are easily intimidated," he said.

The boycott by the three key political parties raised concerns that the reform plan and the charter may not end the political conflict if opposing sides were not brought to compromise.

However, some scholars said the exclusion of political rivals might be unavoidable for peace to prevail.

History shows that attempts to solve political stalemates by involving all conflicting parties have been futile, said Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist at Thammasat University. The 2007 Constitution was the product of compromise between the conflicting groups and it didn't last, he said.

An "alternative approach" to the problem would be from the outside in rather than inside out, meaning letting more "outsiders" participate in national reform, Attasit said.

Thai politics has a problem with social participation. It is difficult for ordinary people to participate in national politics, he said.

People with access to power belong to a closed circle, so existing political groups cannot represent the view of the whole population, which is needed to end political polarisation.


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