Thai Political Parties Banned From Debating Draft Constitution

Chao Praya River in BangkokThailand moves forward. At least that’s one of the slogans the kingdom’s ruling junta likes to use to promote its politics.

Thailand’s so-called Constitution Drafting Committee (whose 36 members were exclusively appointed by the junta a.k.a. NCPO or the “National Council for Peace and Order”) has now written a new draft constitution.
Sure, that’s a big step forward. But, there’s a big “but”:
It will be Thailand’s 20th constitution since 1932 when the absolute rule of the monarchy was absolved. And, to say the least, it’s just as controversial as the previous post-coup charter of 2007 – also written by a military-appointed body.

While the drafters obviously hope that the new “civic-centric” charter will protect the politically divided nation from what they call “parliamentary dictatorship”, critics point out it that it would weaken political parties and usher in a period of short-lived, weak coalition governments.
Not only does the charter draft include controversial provisions that allow for an unelected prime minister and the establishment of a proportional representation electoral system (similar to the one in Germany), the increased power of senators, two-thirds of whom would be appointed rather than elected, is another contentious issue.
A contentious issue that the public is not allowed to discuss though.

As Kong Rithdee commented three days ago in an opinion piece at the Bangkok Post:

[T]he paradox of life in 21st century Thailand is just too heady. For instance, the citizens weren’t supposed to know the content of the citizen-centric constitution in the first place; when the Constitution Drafting Committee submitted their 194-page piece of literature to the National Reform Assembly (NRA), the press wasn’t allowed to see it, and the copy that has circulated online is technically a leak.
An inclusive charter began its journey by excluding citizens. So much for people’s empowerment.

Now the National Reform Council (equally fully selected by the powers-that-be) has completed a week-long debate on the charter draft and sent the text to the junta, the (appointed) cabinet, and political parties for their “feedback” (and implied approval).

You would think that at least political parties now got a chance to discuss the controversial charter draft?
Nope.

The Bangkok Post reported Monday:

The draft constitution went to political parties for review today, but with a catch: They are forbidden from meeting to debate the proposed charter. (…)
[E]ven though martial law has been lifted, political gatherings of five or more people still are prohibited, even if it means gathering to debate the future law of the land.

Little surprisingly, the ban was heavily criticized by both the former ruling party and the opposition. For example, the deputy leader of the Democrat Party was quoted as saying by Reuters:

If they really want views from political parties then the NCPO should lift or relax rules for parties to hold meetings.

In related news, a TV station operated largely the anti-coup “red shirt” movement has been permanently ordered off the air on Monday after authorities decided the channel’s news coverage was “politically divisive” and could “incite unrest”.
While that’s the blanket reason given by authorities to muzzle dissenting media, it seems the main reason for the ban was that the station recently focused on discussing the draft of the new constitution.
According to Khaosod English, a “red shirt” core leader and co-founder of the station commented:

I don’t understand those in power right now. The current situation requires diverse opinions to benefit the drafting of the constitution and create reconciliation, but they end up blocking a channel that voices different opinions.
It means the opinions of certain people that do not match those in power will be rejected. With thing like this happening, how could this country move to democracy?

A legitimate question it seems; unless, perhaps, democracy as-we-know-it isn’t at all the destination of Thailand’s post-coup political journey?

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