- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2007

BANGKOK — Thai voters are being asked to approve a new constitution Sunday, daunted by a warning from the coup-installed military regime that a mysterious backup constitution will be imposed if they vote no.

“If the draft constitution is rejected by a majority vote of people with voting rights, the Council for National Security [junta] shall hold a joint meeting with the Council of Ministers to consider and revise one of the previous constitutions within 30 days,” said a Foreign Ministry document released ahead of the referendum.

“By 17 Sept. 2007, one of the previous constitutions will be revised and presented for promulgation as the new constitution,” the ministry said.

With the referendum just days away, the junta has not indicated which previous constitution might be adopted, or what sorts of amendments are under consideration.

“This is ridiculous. It is a matter of national interest and concern,” said Somchai Preechasilpakul, dean of Chiang Mai University’s law faculty. The coup leaders “should not be hiding anything.”

Many Thai and foreign analysts predicted a victory for the regime’s “yes” campaign after the junta mailed copies of its lengthy proposed constitution to millions of households.

“I received one, and I started to read it, but I didn’t finish,” said one middle-aged businesswoman, who asked not to be identified.

“I think we Thais are lazy and not many people will read the entire constitution. But I will vote ‘yes’ because they say it is an improvement.”

The junta also has offered a simplified cartoon version of the draft constitution for apathetic or poorly educated Thais.

Analysts and regime officials say the proposed basic law could help battle corruption and tighten loopholes in a flawed but popular 1997 “people’s constitution.”

Elected politicians would be weakened and have their numbers reduced, however, while appointed judges would gain powers to install top officials.

The politicized, U.S.-trained military also would increase its influence in Thailand, a non-NATO ally of the United States.

Parliament’s 480-member lower house would have 400 members elected by constituency, plus 80 elected by proportional representation — a mix designed to hobble big political parties, said Chulalongkorn University law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn.

“The draft text clearly shows a degree of mistrust toward politicians, especially those in the executive,” Mr. Vitit wrote in an analysis published last week.

A 150-seat upper chamber, the Senate, would be comprised of 76 elected politicians and 74 appointed members.

“The appointment of half of the senators also insults the intelligence of the people,” said Thongbai Thongpao, a prominent human rights lawyer.

Supporters of a “no” vote complained of harassment and threats after they attracted several thousand people to rallies in Bangkok in recent weeks.

“The referendum on the draft constitution has the facade of being a democratic choice, but it is being carried out under a distinctly undemocratic and repressive climate,” the English-language Bangkok Post said in an Aug. 1 editorial.

“The threat that the country will remain unsettled unless we vote for the draft charter is a cheap scare tactic, but one that seems to be working,” the editorial said.

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