Civil society network launches campaign for new constitution

A network of civil society organizations has launched a campaign to collect 50,000 signatures within 7 days to propose a referendum on whether a new Constitution should be drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly.

The campaign's launch event on Sunday (13 August). From left: Somboon Khamhaeng, Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul, Nantawat Saksakulkunakorn, and Chiranuch Premchaiporn.

The campaign was launched on Sunday (13 August) by a network of civil society organizations and activist groups called the People’s Constitution Drafting Group, aiming to collect 50,000 signatures within 7 days so their proposal can be submitted before the new government begins organizing a referendum on constitutional amendments and can decide on which question to use.

Yingcheep Atchanont, Manager for the legal watchdog NGO iLaw, said during the launch event that the network believes it necessary to launch the campaign as soon as possible, as the new government will be a coalition government, made up of parties with different standpoints. If the government keeps its promise and a referendum is held within the next few months, the network is concerned that the question used during the referendum may be problematic.

Nantawat Saksakulkunakorn, a member of the Committee Campaigning for a People’s Constitution (CCPC), said that the 2017 Constitution, which has been in use for the past 6 years, is problematic in both its content and the drafting process. He explained that this Constitution, drafted following the 2014 military coup, limits the people’s rights and liberty, reduces public participation, and allows government organizations and independent bodies like the Constitutional Court or even the Senate to use their powers in opposition to democratic principles and in a way that damages a regime where the people supposedly hold the supreme power.

Meanwhile, the process by which the 2017 Constitution was drafted was controlled by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which led the 2014 coup. Nantawat noted that before the 7 August 2016 referendum, campaigns against the drafted constitution were repressed and activists were prosecuted for calling for people to reject the constitution, so it cannot be said that the referendum was free or fair and that the 2017 Constitution was approved by the people. Subsequent attempts to amend the Constitution have also been blocked by the Senate, and the Constitutional Court which made amendments more difficult by ruling that a referendum must be held first.

The referendum will be the first step in the process of amending the Constitution. After the first referendum where voters are asked if they want the Constitution to be amended, parliament will have to amend Section 256 in the Constitution to include the process of electing a Constituent Assembly. Another referendum will then be held to approve the amendment on Section 256. An election will then be held for members of the Constituent Assembly, and after the Assembly has made a draft, a final referendum will be held to approve the draft Constitution.

iLaw’s Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul said that it is important that voters know what they will be asked during a referendum, because they can only vote for or against once they are at the poll and are not allowed to add anything to the question. He noted that the question used during the 2016 referendum whether to allow the Senate to vote for a Prime Minister for 5 years has been problematic and so the design of a referendum question is a cause for concern.

Ruchapong said that the question needs to ask whether the entire Constitution can be amended and whether the Constituent Assembly should be entirely elected. He said that, under the current law, civil society may call for a referendum by collecting at least 50,000 signatures and submitting a question to the cabinet. The network is proposing to the new cabinet that the referendum should ask “Do you agree that parliament needs to amend the 2017 Constitution with an entirely new Constitution drafted by members of a Constituent Assembly who are elected by the people?”

Ruchapong said that the question is directly targeted at parliament to ensure that they would have to follow the result of the referendum, and that it is worded to ensure that the entire Constitution can be amended. He said that if it is not worded clearly, other conditions might be added, such as prohibiting the Constituent Assembly from amending sections relating to independent bodies like the Constitutional Court or the Election Commission, which would prevent reform of politics. He also noted that the question should say that the Constituent Assembly will be elected to ensure that no seat in the assembly will be given to an unelected member.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn from the Constitution Advocacy Alliance (CALL) said that drafting a new constitution requires the participation of the entire country, and even if it is difficult to live in this country, the people have shown in the election how they want the country to be. Proposing a referendum question is another chance for the people to create new rules for the country and amend the Constitution by elected representatives.

Chiranuch said the group is aiming to collect 50,000 signatures within 7 days – something she said could be done if people who want to see change come together. She said that, as it was unclear whether online forms will be accepted, the network would like anyone available to sign the form in person at a location nearest to them, deliver signed forms to iLaw, or send a scan of the signed form to [email protected]. Anyone who is unable to send in a form signed by hand may also sign the petition at https://conforall.com/#petition.

Any Thai citizen who is eligible to vote may sign the petition and can now do so at 121 locations in 40 provinces, including at iLaw’s office. Anyone may also sign up to organize signature gatherings.

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