Library of Congress

Law Library of Congress

The Library of Congress > Law Library > News & Events > Global Legal Monitor

Thailand: New Constitution Approved in Referendum

(Aug. 10, 2016) On August 7, 2016, voters in Thailand approved a draft Constitution in a referendum. The text was proposed by the National Council for Peace and Order, the ruling body backed by the military and in power since 2014. (Taylor Isaac, Thailand Passes New Constitution via Referendum, PAPER CHASE (Aug. 7, 2016); Wendy Zeldin, Thailand: Constitutional Referendum to Be Held, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 5, 2015); Draft Constitution 2016, Parliament website (last visited Aug. 8, 2016) (in Thai).)

The 55% turnout at the polls was much lower than the hoped for 80%; 61.45% of those voting supported the new Constitution. Independent organizations requested permission to observe the voting process, but were turned down by the election commission. (Jonathan Head, Thai Referendum: Military-Written Constitution Approved, BBC (Aug. 7, 2016).) Voters also approved a second initiative, which allows the National Council to appoint the full 250-member Senate for five-year terms; the Senate will have a role in selecting the Prime Minister, a function previously restricted to the House of Representatives. According to Kamnoon Sittisamarn, a member of the advisory National Reform Steering Assembly and a former Senator, the new Constitution “will lead to a new political system that we’ve never seen before. … It was designed to make the country move forward for a change and not return to crisis.” (Richard C. Paddock, Voters in Thailand Endorse Military’s Proposed Constitution, NEW YORK TIMES (Aug. 7, 2016).)

Views on the New Constitution

The hope of the regime is that the Constitution will enhance stability; the National Council called the referendum a major step toward “fully-functioning democracy” and said that it would improve the ability of the government to fight corruption and continue the current reform program. Those opposing the new basic document argue that it will strengthen the role of the military in controlling the country. Protests against the proposed Constitution were banned before the vote, and dozens of those who expressed their opposition were arrested. (Head, supra; Isaac, supra.)

The human rights organization Amnesty International criticized the Thai rulers for the ban, stating that in advance of the voting that the referendum would take place “against a backdrop of pervasive human rights violations that have created a chilling climate.” (Press Release, Thailand: Referendum Marred by Human Rights Violations (Aug. 5, 2016), Amnesty International website.) The Amnesty International Deputy Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Josef Benedict, said that “[i]f people cannot speak their minds freely or take part in political activities without fear, how can they meaningfully engage in this referendum?” He went on to say that the measures the authorities called temporary for the maintenance of order were actually designed to squash dissent. (Id.)

Yuthaporn Issarachai, the dean of political science at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, says that under the new Constitution, power will move away from major political parties, and medium-sized political parties will obtain more seats in the legislature. He suggested that “politics from now will be more compromising, more negotiating. … It won’t be politics ruled by the majority. So we will expect to see some adjustments from the political parties. We may see the switching of sides and some negotiations.” (Paddock, supra.)