Ever since the Siamese bloodless revolution in 1932, the vicious cycle of a coup d’etat, military rule, new constitution, parliamentary process which leads back to a crisis again have been repeating.
Thailand had come to the recent coup in 2014 led by General Prayut Chan-O-Cha against Yingluck Shinawatra, the former prime minister, and is under a military government again. After the military rule, it is the promulgation of a new constitution that comes next in the cycle. A new constitution which backed the junta and limited the power of political parties was then drafted by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). The draft was designed to pass because of a ban on campaigning that was imposed as well as how activists with opposing views who criticized the constitution were charged. Unsurprisingly, the amended draft was approved by Thais with more than 61% votes of approval through a national referendum on 7 August 2016. However, due to the request of King Rama X, the approved constitution was altered and a few main changes were made. The 2017 Constitution was officially promulgated at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the same location as when a constitutional monarchy was first granted to Thai people, on the sixth of April 2017. This constitution was seen as a tool for the military to join the Thai politics scene and also an enhancement of the monarchs’ influence over the country. In this essay, the most significant alterations between the drafted constitution and the signed one as well as the new important amendments in the 2017 Constitution will be introduced.
The alterations of the drafted Constitution were made after a request from the current King, King Rama X, most importantly resulting in a change in crisis powers, appointment of regents, and ministerial accountability for orders. Compared to when the former King was under a Constitution, the former King was given significantly lesser direct power. The significance of this set of alterations is that it has evidently shown changes that lead to a stronger influence of the monarch over important governmental procedures and reduce the importance in the say of other governmental heads. One of the most important changes begin with Section 5 of the draft which stated that the constitution is the supreme law of the state and any law, rule, regulation or any acts that are not consistent with the constitution is unenforceable. The second and third paragraph were prepared to handle cases in which no provision under the constitution can be applied. It stated that a decision to such cases shall be made by the head of the constitutional court with the agreement of the heads of all the three branches of power: the President of the House of Representatives, the Opposition Leader in the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, the Prime Minister, the President of the Supreme Court, the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, the President of the Constitutional Court, and the Presidents of Constitutional Organizations in accordance with the constitutional conventions of Thailand with the King as Head of the State. Differs from the draft, the 2017 Constitution did not include the requirement of getting approvals from the head of the constitutional court and the heads of all three branches in order to make a decision of cases where the constitution is inapplicable. Following that, the processes of the appointment of regent(s) were also altered. A regent is a person appointed to administer the country due to the absence of the monarch. The altered sections related to this process include section 16, 17 and 19. In section 16, the draft published that whenever the King is absent or unable to perform his functions for whatever reasons, a regent shall be appointed by the King and countersigned by the President of the National Assembly while the Constitution signed stated that the appointment of a regent is optional and a regent can be both a person or a group of persons. This amendment will allow the King to be able to travel abroad without having to appoint a regent. Moving on to section 17 which talks about the case where a regent was not appointed but deemed necessary, the August Constitution gave the National Assembly a say in the name of the person suitable submitted by the Privy Council but the signed Constitution does not give the National Assembly any say with the list of names already prepared by the King. In the last altered section regarding the topic of an appointment of a regent, Section 19, a solemn declaration or a vow must be made only by a regent who has not been appointed before whereas the original draft stated that a regent shall make a solemn declaration before taking office without any exceptions. Lastly, it is about the accountability of orders made by the King. In Section 182 of the constitution, the minister and the person countersigning all the laws, royal rescripts, and royal commands relating to the State affairs is also no longer accountable for all the affairs under the Royal Command. These amendments have shown a very clear difference about how the current King might be planning to rule with more absolutism than the previous King, thus enhancing a considerable amount of influence of the monarch over the country.
Moving on to the content of the new Constitution, the New 2017 Constitution introduced a new electoral system as well as changes in the selection process of the Senate. The electoral system changes had provided a room for predictions that Thailand will likely move back to a coalition government which is a form of government without the dominance of any party because none of the parties achieved a majority of votes, again like in the 1990s. According to Section 83, the House of Representatives consists of 500 members, 350 members elected through a constituency basis while another 150 will be from the party list system. In this new system known as “Mixed member apportionment”, the 85th Section stated that each person having a right to vote has the right to cast one vote in an election only unlike the 2007 Constitution where each person gets to vote separately for the constituency and the party. This MMA system will gain the smaller parties more seats and decrease the number of seats of major political parties as well as their influence. This move precisely portrays how the NCPO, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is trying to limit powers of elected governmental bodies. This amendment likely resulted from their open belief that the problems that cause instability in Thailand’s government came from elected politicians, also enforcing severe accountability for elected politicians and ignoring potential causes of political crisis that might come from non-elected bodies. There are rarely any mechanisms and accountability for non-elected bodies and individual organizations.
The election of the Upper House or the Senates are also different in this new Constitution.
In the 2007 Constitution, the Senate totaled to 150 members in which 76 were directly elected and another 74 were appointed but on the other hand, all the senators making up to a total of 200 members will be appointed by the military junta with 6 seats reserved for the military heads according to Section 107 in the 2017 Constitution. In this Constitution, the National Assembly will take part in the voting of a prime minister, not excluding the Upper House like the previous constitution. In the case where all senators fully support Prayut, only three quarters of the seats in the lower house are needed for him to obtain a majority in both houses adding to the fact that a candidate does not have to be a member of parliament as long as the qualifications are met. This converted to only needing 126 votes of approval from the lower house for Prayut Chan-O-Cha to become prime minister. The significance of this alteration is how it will provide an easier path for the military to interfere more with Thai politics since the government will be under enormous influence of the junta.
In conclusion, the 2017 Constitution that won the majority of votes in a national referendum gives the monarchs more influence and power to make decisions over important governmental processes and the new amendments of the Constitution had paved ways for the military government, NCPO lead by Prayut Chan-O-Cha, to eliminate the influence of major political parties by having a coalition government as well as gain more influence to interfere with future Thai politics. Thailand’s future government is yet to be seen but the predictions that it is to be led by the junta for a while along with also being under an almost-absolutist monarchy is likely to occur.