Constitutional amendment referendum campaign gains over 200,000 signatures

After being informed by the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) that online signatures would not be accepted, the campaign to petition for a constitutional referendum obtained 212,139 signatures on paper in the space of just 3 days.

iLaw's signature collection table at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) on Thursday night (24 August)

The campaign was launched both online and off on 13 August by a network of civil society organisations and activist groups called the Peoples Constitution Drafting Group. It aimed to collect 50,000 signatures to call for a referendum on whether the 2017 Constitution should be entirely amended by an elected Constituent Assembly.

By the evening of 22 August, the petitioners had received over 53,800 signatures. Hours later, however, the network was told by the ECT that online forms would not be accepted, rendering over 40,000 of the signatures void.

The network put out an urgent call for anyone who signed the petition online, along with others who had not signed, to find the closest signature collection point and sign the petition in person or mail a signed form to the legal watchdog NGO iLaw.

iLaw's employees counting the signatures as signed forms continue to arrive from over the country before the petition drive closed on Friday night (25 August).

Over the next three days, many citizens launched their own campaigns to get people to sign the petition. Some set up signature collection tables in their businesses. Others collected signatures from family members and co-workers. Supporters of the campaign reported going to coffee shops and train stations and posting their locations on social media so people could come sign the petition or drop off signed forms. Volunteers also turned up at iLaw’s signature collection spot at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) to help with the collection.

Student organisations at various universities, including Thammasat, Chulalongkorn, Kasetsart, Ramkhamhaeng, and Mahidol Universities as well as the Asian Institute of Technology, also helped. Meanwhile, Move Forward Party MPs also set up signature collection spots at their offices.

Two people arrived at iLaw's office on Friday night carrying a bag of signed forms. A piece of paper was taped to the bag saying "Home stretch! On our way to iLaw, feel free to call us."

On Friday night (25 August), campaign supporters delivered signed forms to iLaw’s office.  Others came to added their names to the petition. A large number of documents were also brought by delivery riders or mailed to iLaw’s PO box. By the time the petition drive closed at 20.00, it had gained 112,507 signatures.

Over the weekend, signed forms continue to arrive at iLaw’s PO box. On Sunday night (27 August), the campaign had a total of 205,739 signatures, over four times the legally required number.

Students from Kasetsart University came to iLaw office on Friday night to deliver signed petition forms.

Unsure whether the ECT would be able to process such a large number of signatures in time for the new government’s first cabinet meeting, representatives of the network went to the Pheu Thai Party headquarters on Monday (28 August) to file an open letter calling on the party, as leader of the government coalition, to take the petition into consideration

Commenting upon the dramatic rise in hard-copy signature numbers from 10,000 on 22 August to over 200,000 three days later, iLaw’s Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul said it was due to the efforts of ordinary citizens and that, as Pheu Thai Party has all along said that it wants to propose amendments to the constitution, he hopes it will take this opportunity to do so.

He added that network members decided to propose the question to be used in the referendum because the one used in the 2016 referendum was badly written and produced poor results, notable, a Senate empowered to vote for a Prime Minister. He called on Pheu Thai leaders to consider their proposed question without waiting for the ECT, which might claim that there are too many signatures to process in time.

Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul (left) and Chiranuch Premchaiporn (center) delivering the network's open letter to Pheu Thai party leader Chonlanan Srikaew (right).

Chiranuch Premchaiporn from the the Constitution Advocacy Alliance (CALL) said that the number of signatures gained in 3 days and the number of volunteers who turned up to help put the information into spreadsheets is a clear indication of what people wants. Noting that Pheu Thai has long backed constitutional amendment proposals, she hopes that they will push for it.

“The most important thing is that the Constituent Assembly be elected; given how active people have been during the past two weeks, we think it’s a clear indication that the people are ready to participate,” Chiranuch said.

“Having an election so that people from different sectors can join the Constituent Assembly is in line with prevailing public sentiments and Pheu Thai party policies … we want to deliver these messages to Pheu Thai as a leader of the government.”

Representatives of the party came to receive the open letter. Party leader Chonlanan Srikaew said that Pheu Thai is committed to amending the constitution and that the cabinet will discuss it as soon as possible after ministers are appointed. Meanwhile, deputy party leader Chusak Sirinin said that during last parliament’s term, the party proposed an amendment to Section 256 of the Constitution to allow for an elected Constituent Assembly, but a petition was filed to have the Constitutional Court rule on whether parliament is allowed to amend the Constitution. Parliament also later voted that a referendum must be held before amendments could be made.

Chusak said that the party is committed to drafting a new constitution, but that a referendum must be held first to ensure that public opinion is considered. He agrees that a referendum should ask whether the people want a new constitution and whether they want to elect members of the Constituent Assembly.   He said he believes that such question would ensure that the process of drafting a new constitution runs smoothly.

Representatives of the network went to the ECT office to submit the petition yesterday (30 August). During their press conference, they displayed envelopes the forms were delivered in and boxes used to store the signed forms.

The petition was delivered to the ECT yesterday (30 August), where it will be processed before being submitted to the cabinet. The final signature count when the petition was submitted was 212,139.

iLaw manager Yingcheep Atchanont said during yesterday’s press conference before network representatives submitted the petition that the obstacles the campaign faced did not stop the people from exercising their rights, and that he believes the people can accomplish harder things if they come together. He also said that, since volunteers are able to input the information of over 200,000 people into spreadsheet within only a few days, he hopes the ECT will not need as long to process the petition. He asked when the ECT will be done processing, since the network has done everything to facilitate it, and said he hopes the petition will be submitted to the cabinet before the first cabinet meeting.

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