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Thailand Votes on Constitution: The Plot Thickens

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What do a sexy female teenage rock star, one of the richest men in the world and a pack of angry generals have in common?  Politics in Thailand, naturally! 

On Sunday, the people of Thailand will likely adopt the constitution developed by the ruling military junta governing Thailand.

The junta occurred last September and ousted popular democratically elected President Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin, thought to be one of the world’s richest men, showed kindness to Thailand’s poverty stricken. Thaksin went so far as to find ways to funnel money to the poor – a practice Thailand’s generals saw as a threat to military authority and a way of “buying votes.”

The generals of the junta also accused Thaksin of keeping too many secrets and running a corrupt government. The new constitution increases transparency for senior leaders.

To make sure such heinous crimes as Mr. Thaksin’s alleged wrongs never happen again, Thailand’s new constitutional draft gives a lot more power to judges and bureaucrats and minimizes the voice of the people.

The current government of Thailand has sent copies of the 149-page draft constitution to all 18 million homes in Thailand.

But Mr Thaksin’s supporters want to see the constitution rejected.  They stages unruly protests for weeks in bangkok and other cities urging rejection of the referendum.

Thaksin supporters say the charter justifies and endorses the creation of an illegitimate government by the military.

Although most Thais see the junta’s constitutional draft as a blow to Thai democracy, most will probably vote to adopt it during Sunday’s referendum. Polls show Thais eager for parliamentary elections, a carrot the junta has promised the people for December – if the new constitution passes on Sunday.

The generals and former generals running Thailand have made it clear that “the only right thing to do” is to vote yes on tomorrow’s referendum. Some 60% of eligible voters have said they will turn out.

“I think the constitution will be accepted because the government’s publicity campaign is very widespread throughout the whole country,” says Somchai Pakpatwiwat, a political science lecturer at Bangkok’s Thammasat University. “Thai democracy will go back in time to before the 1997 constitution, when the tenure of governments was very short. It’s the same old story.”

Critics of the junta and democracy advocates say the people will have less power under the constitution. A seven member panel of judges, for example, will elect about half the Senate.

Thailand’s biggest threat to the ruling judges and generals, it would appear, remains Mr. Thaksin himself. The junta has abolished his political party and ordered his arrest.

The wealthy Mr. Thaksin would have to be extradited from his new home in London – where he is reportedly living the high life. He recently purchased the English soccer club Manchester City – and he has been associating with Thai teenage rock star Lydia.

An enterprising young woman named Sunisa Lertpakawat went to London, interviewed Mr Thaksin, and wrote a syrupy book about the former prime minister.

She says her chatty book about Mr. Thaksin’s life and moods could have been called “Lonely Thaksin.”

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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