20th Constitution And Counting: What’s Good, Thailand?

Military coups have become a common occurrence in Thailand and despite being desensitized to having our government toppled every so often, it is at least still understood that a coup isn’t conventional, nor is it a sustainable way of life. We see these coups as either a “last resort” to end bloodshed in protests or a political means of strong-arming the will of the state to its knees. Either way, a coup is seen as a means to an end. Our hopes being that the end is a state run democratically, cleanly, and peacefully.

As such, since 1932, we have had 20 constitutions. We just passed our most recent one on August 7, 2016. It seems that with each coup, the next step forward is to overturn the current constitution and replace it with a newer and better one. The highest law of the land seems to be changed on a whim, compared to other, more successful, democracies. They argue that without a good constitution to set up a strong scaffolding for the building of the state, the state is bound to crumble. And yet, the state has been crumbling for the better part of the past two decades. With each constitution, in my opinion, for the majority of the document, core values remain the same, only the semantics change. However, certain articles get removed or added, creating constitutions that are more problematic than the last.

But to me, the problem isn’t with the constitution. The notion of using the constitution as a scapegoat is not only harmful to the continuity of governing the state but also threatens the democratic values we like to say we uphold. Where did the solution of overturning the constitution and rewriting it every time there was a coup come from? And who decided it was our best solution? Having changed the constitution for the 20th time in 84 years, little has changed in Thailand. Our most democratic constitution (which I still fail to see and understand why it was overturned and rewritten) was written and implemented in 1997 and saw to the fundamental and basic human rights of the people, decentralisation of the government, 100% of parliament and senate were elected by the people. Yet, we had the 2006 protests and military coup that saw the exile of Thaksin Shinawatra and the disbandment of the Phuea Thai Party – one of the biggest disasters of in our political history since we became a constitutional monarchy. Because Shinawatra had won his second election by such a landslide, he had almost a monopoly of the government. With the corruption so instilled in our system, I would not be surprised to hear that he did have a monopoly of the government. With this, a newer and less democratic constitution was drafted and implemented with hopes that the country will not face another disaster such as this again. Of course, it did. Twice.

The less democratic the constitutions passed, the more authoritarian the state becomes. We are now a state governed by fear of corruption, giving up our civil liberties in fear of a more disastrous alternative. Yet, corruption remains an intrinsic part of our system. One of the biggest selling points of this constitution is that there are 50 articles dealing with corruption. We already have an anti-corruption agency that is worse for wear and I’m willing to bet that these articles in the new constitution will not amount to much. There are two things, in my opinion, that we fail to be acknowledge.

Firstly: not everything can be included in the constitution and not everything that is in the constitution is translated to the legislation. It is impossible for a constitution to encompass all aspects of the law and it is impossible for the constitution to protect us from what may happen in the future. The constitution is written to uphold our core values and our fundamental guidelines. Our laws should expand upon the constitution and create a framework for how we should lead our lives. The law should be an interpretation of the constitution based on the way of life of that era. The most important thing, however, is to note that even with a flawless constitution, whatever that may be, if the values of the constitution are not translated into legislation, then that constitution is worthless. Even then, the constitution is not to blame, but those who attempt to translate the values into law.

Secondly: even when the transference of values from the constitution to legislation is completed seamlessly, the undertaking of the law must be accurate to the law and, most importantly, clean. Under the assumption that the constitution is flawless, and the transference of values to legislation is perfect, as long as our system is ridden with corruption, backhanded deals, and ulterior motives, the country will not progress. When the law enforcers do not enforce the law, we will remain in this state of ruin and deadlock. When the people with the power to push our country forward choose to value self gain over the country, then what hope is there for the most impoverished of us?

Again, the issue in Thailand has never been about the constitution. It was obvious enough with the 1997 constitution and the 2006 coup. It’s with us, the people, the ‘law-enforcers’, the governors, the politicians. The general public has decided time and time again that enough is enough. Are 3 coups in 15 years not enough to prove that? It is about time that the people who have the power and the ability to do something to step up and choose the country and the people over themselves. This constitution that we have passed isn’t our most democratic one, nor is it one that I would have liked to call the highest law of the land. However, irrespective of whether this constitution has passed or not, unless the people beneath it changes for the better, the result will always be the same. Until then, I’m hoping (blindly) that a military dictatorship may just do enough to steer the country off the road ridden with rigged elections and affluent politicians.


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