6 June 2024

This week’s demise of a charter amendment bill sold as “of the people” is not a surprise, but what is bewildering is why people who matter continue to keep away from what must be a success formula after nearly a century of failures suffered by everyone.

Since 1932, political rivals in Thailand have effectively changed the Constitution 23 times and countless proposals have been shot down along the way. Those 23 times and numerous unsuccessful attempts have displayed one thing in common: They all dealt with the electoral system, tackled the relevance and “origin” of the Senate, and innovated ways to punish opponents.

Both sides of the national divide are to blame, not just the one seeking changes at the moment. Constitution, in its oldest sense and meaning, must be a set of basic, governing and shared values that serve ordinary people’s interests. Somehow, over the years, the definition of “Constitution” morphed into something that has served vested interests, be it business or political, of the powers-that-be or their opposition.

To say that the sacred word has been “hijacked” is harsh, but it can also be argued that it’s not an overstatement. For about nine decades, Thailand’s Constitution has been scrapped, recreated, revised, changed back and nullified all over again. Through all that, have we ever seen a “Parliament to contemplate charter upgrade on education rights” headline? When was the last time a constitutional fight took place over “privileges” of wealthy suspects that are the true cause of injustice in Thailand? What about consumers’ rights, or management of natural resources like gas, oil or frequencies that should belong to all Thais?

The truth is that any politician can argue for or against the existence, importance, or power of the Senate, and every electoral system produces good and bad representatives. Debates on such issues, therefore, can last forever, cause serious rifts, turn violent and do not address the day-to-day wellbeing of the general public properly at all.

On the Senate, for example, Thailand has tried basically everything _ elected Senators, appointed Senators, powerful Senators or virtually irrelevant Senators. The fight over merits or non-merits of having a Senate has turned from intellectual showdowns into a situation where whoever speaks louder or wields more power can bang the table and get what he wants. A few years ago, the military was dominant so the senatorial clause in the Constitution was something it liked. Now that the military has become less politically influential, the other side is stepping up attempts to rein in the Senate.

It will never end, which means that whenever a Constitution is partisan, it will never last. The only way to create a bipartisan Constitution must be to focus on things both sides can agree on, or in other words, things that are truly important. By that, “reformers” must seek to increase educational rights, reduce judicial privileges of the wealthy, focus on Thais’ entitlement to natural resources, and go from there. It will be constructive and beneficial to the ordinary people if constitutional campaigns highlight raising mandatory “free education” and quick and transparent settlement of court cases regardless of social status.

One case is telltale. When Vorayuth Yoovidhya, a multi-billion-baht business heir, crashed his supercar into a motorcycle, killing a police officer, Yingluck Shinawatra was Thailand’s prime minister, few people heard of ThanathornJuangroongruangkit, Prayut Chan-o-cha was a name nobody cared about and the Senate did not have the power to select the national chief executive. But what looked then like a solid fatal hit-and-run incident that took place under alleged influences of alcohol and/or drugs remains unsettled as of today, spanning all kinds of political environments with everyone blaming everyone for the fact that such a simple case has been dragging on so unbelievably and pathetically long. Committee after committee has been set up but here we still are.

Why?

Because the case was never really political, at least in the beginning. Because true values are never instilled by constitutions and countless charter amendments. Because no matter how partisan Thai Constitutions have been, how rhetorical their advocates are, and how democratic or dictatorial the atmosphere is, bad human traits are still shared and prevail all across the board. Because “equality of justice”, like “Constitution”, are words that have been politicized too much and hence carried divisive prejudices and do not manage to strike the right, unison chord.

Thai political rivals will fight to the death over constitutional clauses that concern them but can sit together to watch real ills taking place at all social spectrums or ignore things that should never have been ignored.

It is not hard to create a bipartisan charter for genuine, ordinary citizens. However, that such a Constitution seems so easy and simple only makes the whole state of affairs so difficult to understand.

By Tulsathit Taptim