Junta warned as it appears stronger after referendum; questions loom over turnout.
POLITICAL ANALYSTS have warned the post-coup government against regarding the strong “yes” vote in Sunday’s referendum as a mandate.
But the majority support for the draft constitution, and to have junta-appointed senators participate in the selection of future prime ministers, undeniably indicates widespread acceptance of the political roles of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the military-installed regime and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), observers said.
Analysts said the result pointed to the popularity of the powers-that-be, which should help to boost their confidence in running the country.
Authorities could cite the vote results favouring the charter to claim legitimacy, observers said, adding that a desire to see greater political stability drove the majority “Yes” vote.
Official results of the referendum vote were still unavailable yesterday but the Election Commission had counted 94 per cent of ballots cast and is expected to announce the official results by tomorrow. The initial turnout was projected at 58 per cent of eligible voters.
As many as 15.5 million, or 61.4 per cent of voters who cast their ballots, approved the draft charter, compared with 9.7 million, or 38.6 per cent, who voted against it, according to unofficial results.
Most voters, 58.1 per cent, also chose to empower appointed senators to join elected MPs in selecting prime ministers during the first five years after the new Parliament convenes under the new constitution. An estimated 41.9 per cent of voters disapproved of that stipulation.
In the previous 2007 referendum, 57.8 per cent of voters approved that draft constitution, compared with 42.2 per cent who voted against it.
The referendum result will legitimise the junta’s bid to extend its hold on power based on this constitution, Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“It will embolden junta leader Prayut to think he has millions of Thais behind him and it will extend military control,” he said.
Akanat Promphan, a spokesman for the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation, said yesterday that he believed many voters were swayed by Prayut’s announcement a couple of days before the referendum that he would vote for the charter and the additional question on Senate power.
“The vote result reflected General Prayut’s popularity. Most people want reforms outlined in the draft constitution, in the hope that corruption will be suppressed,” he said.
Satitorn Tananitichote, an analyst from King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said that despite support provided by 15.5 million voters, there were still 35 million eligible voters who either |voted against both referendum |questions or did not turn out to vote.
“Given the result, it is obvious that 10 million [who voted ‘no’] are not with the NCPO. But the true majority is the 25 million others who abstained. These are not supporters [of the regime] and even the opposition demonstrated their defiance by not participating in the vote,” Satitorn said.
He said the 61 per cent who voted “yes” in Sunday’s referendum did not form “a true majority” when compared with the 50 million eligible voters.
“When writing organic laws and the national strategy, the NCPO should listen not only to the 15 million voters. That would just lead it in the wrong way. Rather, it has to be more inclusive,” the scholar said.
Weaker rejection than in 2007
Attachak Sattayanurak, a history professor at Chiang Mai University, said the vote to reject the charter in the North was weaker than in 2007, although rejection votes still outnumbered approval votes.
He said most people wanted an election, so they voted to accept the draft constitution. Additionally, the draft’s opponents failed to convince voters that there would be an election if the draft were rejected, Attachak said.
Other people who voted for the charter in Chiang Main included political independents and people who based their personal judgements based on “what’s right and wrong”, he said.
Suriyasai Katasila, a political analyst from Rangsit University, said that by accepting the charter by a greater margin than in 2007, people showed they wanted the country to move forward. But regarding the additional question paving the way for the Senate’s role in selecting a prime minister, he said the 41-per-cent rejection figure could mean people are concerned about the military’s role in politics.
The charter draft stipulates that the Senate will be selected by the NCPO.
Suriyasai also said the vote results demonstrated a crisis of faith in the two major political parties, which both rejected the draft. He said the parties should seriously consider reforms and improving themselves.
Two former prime ministers who had spoken publicly against the draft charter said yesterday they respected the decision by the majority of voters.
“I accept the decision of the people,” Yingluck Shinawatra said in a social-media post. “But I am saddened by the fact that our country is going backwards to an undemocratic constitution.”
It was Yingluck’s first public reaction to Sunday’s vote.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said he accepted the people’s decision in the referendum but that he would not change his stance against the charter.
Abhisit, also a former prime minister, said he believed that those who voted “yes” wanted the country to move forward with reforms and anti-corruption measures as well as to leave political conflicts behind.
He said the Democrats would have to take people’s wishes into account to adjust the policies of the party.