BANGKOK – Thailand held a referendum on a draft constitution on Aug. 7, and it was approved after more than 60 percent of voters support it.
Since a military coup in May 2014, the Thai military has dominated the country. The draft includes provisions aimed at maintaining the militaryâ€™s supremacy over a civilian government, which is supposed to be set up after the next general election expected to take place in the second half of next year.
â€œThe draft constitution can put the old order under the king back in place,â€ said a source close to the military. Without doubt, confusion and chaos prevailed throughout the country before the military coup. The source stressed: â€œIf the military went back to its barracks at this stage, unrest would prevail again. Its role is to stop the political turmoil.â€
However, the assumption that people also endorsed military rule with their yes votes is far from the reality. â€œThe outcome of the referendum is the product of compromise by the people,â€ a Thai political scientist said. The political scientist insists many of those who voted in favor understand the harsh reality in which â€œthe influence of the military will remain regardless of whether or not they vote for the draft constitution.â€
Their votes were motivated by a statement by Interim Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who said, â€œOnce the draft constitution is approved, the next general election will be held next year.â€
The political scientist concluded that people made concessions because they wanted to build the nation through the election rather than through the armed forces.
The international community has never endorsed the legitimacy of the junta, which seized power in a coup. It is not desirable for the junta to stay in power even if it were able to prevent turmoil. The next general election will be the first step to the restoration of democracy.
However, there is a feeling of powerlessness among the people, who had to settle on a compromise.
After the referendum, a series of blasts took place in Thailand. Some blame the explosions on people frustrated with the ballot results, and there is a risk that such frustration may result in further incidents. According to reports from local media, the number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand may fall by as much as 200,000 due to the bombings. Deterioration of the security situation will bring grave consequences to the country as tourism is Thailandâ€™s key industry.
But tourism is not the only concern. Thailand faces serious social problems such as an aging society and a declining birthrate, as well as a labor shortage.
Currently, workers from neighboring countries like Myanmar and Cambodia are filling the gap. But when Myanmarâ€™s estimated 2 million to 3 million workers in Thailand start returning to their home country, which is making progress in establishing democracy, the stagnating Thai economy will be hugely impacted.
If political turmoil and declining public order become commonplace, foreign enterprises from Japan and other countries will hesitate to invest in Thailand. In the meantime, China, which aims to extend its influence over Southeast Asia, may become more involved in Thailand.
Thailand is a significant regional industrial power based on a constitutional monarchy. Continued destabilization could also destabilize Southeast Asia as a whole.
It is Thailandâ€™s duty, not just to its people but also to the international community, to end military rule and restore democracy as soon as possible. Leaders of the country should be aware of this.
By Taro Nishijima / Yomiuri Shimbun Bangkok Bureau Chief, The Japan News
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of the Chiang Rai Times.