Monday, August 20, 2007
Thai voters approve new constitution
Thai voters gave themselves a new constitution Sunday, bringing military rule closer to an end. Almost a year ago, a military junta ousted the popularly elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In exile in London, Thaksin has been charged with corruption in Thailand and many leaders of his party, Thai Rak Thai, were judged guilty of election fraud and have been banned from politics for 5 years. Called “the first step in moving forward to full democracy” by the junta-appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, the new constitution, approved by perhaps as many as 70% of voters, provides for democracy but gives bureaucracy and the military greater influence than electoral politics. Some voters are simply relieved to be moving on, while others, primarily among rural voters who supported Thaksin, oppose the constitution as a “vote to endorse the coup” that won’t do anything for the poor. Social and political divisions subsist, of course, and election battles are likely to be fierce. Former senator Kraisak Choonhavan predicts aggressive, even nondemocratic campaigning, saying Thailand is "not in for a pretty time". Let's hope this doesn't forbode election violence like that seen in Guatemala, where the body count of 26 I reported here is now up to 40, with Rigoberta Menchú's party losing several people last week.