A Thai soldier stands guard in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok after the military seized power on May 22. Pic: AP.

A Thai soldier stands guard in front of the Democracy Monument in Bangkok after the military seized power on May 22. Pic: AP.

The “reform” plans by Thailand’s military government continue to take shape. After the establishment of the so-called National Reform Council, a Constitutional Drafting Committee will be created soon. But developments in both groups suggest again that any attempts to revamp the political system will be a very exclusive, one-sided affair.

In the immediate aftermath of the military coup of May 22, one of the often-cited reasons for the hostile takeover was the “need” to reform Thailand’s political system, which was later extended to a desire to eventually create a “true democracy” that may or may not include democratic elections at the end of 2015. Apart from those that were against the toppled government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra – and a few of them actively helping to pave the way for the coup – it was clear to most people that it meant that the military junta would change the rules to its own liking.

The actions of the military junta have continued to show that: Then-army chief and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha became prime minister thanks to the confirmation by a rubber stamping, all-appointed ersatz-parliament called the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which is stacked mostly with military officers. Also, the recent inauguration of the National Reform Council (NRC) and soon the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) are indicative that the country’s “reform” process is an exclusive one.

The junta-drafted interim constitution (full translation available HERE) initially mandated a 14-member selection committee to pick 250 members for the National Reform Council. But the junta – thus the country’s entire military top command – then decided to do all the appointing by itself, basing it on Article 30.6 that basically makes the selection committee redundant since in the end the junta makes the call anyway.

Despite previous pledges by Gen. Prayuth that “people from all walks of life” will be included among the reportedly almost 7,000 applicants, the final members’ list is rather unsurprising:

Critics have lambasted the 173 selected members of the National Reform Council (NRC) tasked with 11 areas of reform for their affiliations with the military regime after a list of names was leaked to the media.

The Pheu Thai Party and red shirts have voiced concern that the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) reform process will fail because the list is made up largely of regime sympathisers and lacks representation from a cross-section of groups in society. Meanwhile, opponents of the previous government and members of the yellow-shirt group praised the NRC’s composition, saying it comprises experts in various fields and is not dominated by the military.

The leaked list includes several former members of the anti-Thaksin Group of 40 Senators, such as Rosana Tositrakul, Kamnoon Sitthisamarn, Phaiboon Nititawan and Wanchai Sornsiri. Academics on the council are noted sympathisers of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee [the anti-government protesters that paved the way for the coup], including Charas Suwannamala and Chuchai Supawong.

NRC picks stir barrage of criticism“, Bangkok Post, September 30, 2014

The National Reform Council – whose members don’t have to reveal their assets, by the way (unlike their NLA colleagues) – has mainly two tasks: First, it is supposed to make recommendations to, well, reform a good dozen of targeted areas including politics, social issues, education, administration and economy. That also includes drafting bills for the NLA to vote on.

Secondly, it also is an important component for the drafting of a new constitution (remember, we currently only have an interim one). The NRC can send 20 members to the so-called Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), while the NLA, the junta cabinet and the junta itself can appoint five members each (the latter also decides on the CDC chairman).

There was some speculation that the NRC might appoint people outside their ranks to join the CDC, in order to include those political stakeholders that have been largely excluded for the entirety of the political process since the coup, mainly the main political parties (Democrat and Pheu Thai) and their supporter groups (e.g. the red shirts). The rationale behind that idea was to show that the ‘reform’ process isn’t solely an ‘inside job’, but actually an inclusive one with people across the spectrum represented.

However, that idea had at best a snowball’s chance in hell and it was overwhelmingly struck down in a vote on Tuesday, with most opponents saying it’s the “NRC’s duty” and getting former political stakeholders would only “negatively affect” the drafting process. In the end, the NRC voted 20 of their own people into the CDC on Wednesday, mostly comprised of persons that are politically aligned to the junta.

The NRC’s essential role in the drafting process of the next constitution is that it’s going to approve the CDC’s draft after a set time limit of 120 days (Article 34). However, should it fail to do so, the CDC will be dissolved and a new one will be created (Article 38). Even harsher, should the NRC either fail to decide on the draft within 15 days or flat out reject it, BOTH the NRC and the CDC will be dissolved, its members sacked and new ones will be filled for both groups (Article 37). The worst case scenario could result in multiple loops of NRCs and CDCs being created and sacked until there’s eventually a new constitution everybody’s happy with – practically the junta’s version of Groundhog Day!

What all these developments show is that the so-called ‘reform’ process initiated by Thailand’s military junta is nothing but a smokescreen for a short-sighted, one-sided revamp of the political system, aimed at excluding their political rivals at the risk of disenfranchising at least half the country. By mainly sticking to themselves, the men and women in the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council and the Constitutional Drafting Committee are the manifestation of yet another monopoly of power under Thailand’s new military government that will only create more opposition than there already is.

Also, NRC president Thienchay Keeranan recently said in an interview that he’s open to put the constitution draft up for a referendum (even though there are no such plans as of now) and that he anticipates the NRC’s work to be completed by 2016, despite another council member previously saying that the NRC should exist “no longer than one year.” However, that coincides with recent hints by junta leader and prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s that elections might be postponed into 2016, thus extending the junta’s reform roadmap to their vision of a “true democracy”.

It looks like the few ‘good’ men deciding about Thailand’s future are going to stay a little bit longer than promised.

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs extensively about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as an international freelance broadcast journalist. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.