Voices from Isaan: the constitution drafting

People in Khon Kaen express their hopes and worries about the drafting of the country’s new constitution.

"I don't think the new constitution will help to bridge the divide in society.People will come out again and protest when the time is ripe" - Sombat Toomjandee (56), market vendor "I want the 1997 constitution back, because it was the people's constitution and many joined in to write it." - Kuanjai Srijandee (43), drink vendor and rice farmer "I have heard that they are writing a new constitution but I havn't much hope that this will really change anything."
"There should be a quota for women in local administrative bodies – thirty pro cent sounds like a good number." - Sunanta Pittaka (18) and Pornpimon Saengchote (18), Business Management students at Khon Kaen Technology College "Instead of changing the whole constitution, they should just amend some articles. Really, this reform process isn't good for anything. I want elections as soon as possible." - Ampan Khunanan (46), tuktuk driver
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"I have heard that they are writing a new constitution but I havn't much hope that this will really change anything." "There should be a quota for women in local administrative bodies – thirty pro cent sounds like a good number." - Sunanta Pittaka (18) and Pornpimon Saengchote (18), Business Management students at Khon Kaen Technology College

KHON KAEN – The drafting of Thailand’s twentieth constitution is entering its last stage. According to Chairman Borwornsak Uwanno, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) will submit the final draft to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) by end of May. The new constitution is the centerpiece of the military government’s reform process and a prerequisite for the promised return to democratic rule.

In Khon Kaen, people are skeptical that the new charter will prevent the country from slipping back into new phase of political instability. The Isaan Record talked to people in the city center about their concerns regarding the drafting process and their expectations for the new constitution. Many were reluctant to talk or refused to give their names, citing the current political climate that they said bans people from speaking freely.

“I want it to be the best constitution of all,” says fifty-four-year-old Samai Phetpurkpong, a state employee collecting parking fees in front of Banglamphoo Market. “I don’t want them to just return to one of the old constitutions because that’s where the whole yellow-red chaos all began,” she adds before running off to collect the hourly two baht parking fee from someone.

Kuanjai Srijandee, a fourty-three-year-old drink vendor and rice farmer disagrees. “I want the 1997 constitution back because it was the people’s constitution and many joined in to write it.” For her, the 2007 constitution that followed the military coup in 2006 already marked a step backwards for the country’s democracy. “It doesn’t matter if they write a new constitution now. Nothing will change. Thailand now is like Myanmar was in the past,” Ms. Kuanjai says.

A fifty-three-year-old fruit vendor and self-identified yellow shirt who asked to be identified only by her nickname Nit, says that she has some hope for the new constitution. Asked about what should be included in the new charter, she answers, “I really want them to include an article that makes sure that any large-scale government project can only go ahead with local peoples’ participation.”

Referring to the controversial gas exploration project in Khon Kaen’s Kranuan district, she adds, “Some people benefit from this project, but what about those who don’t? Their voices can’t just be ignored. We really have to do better than that.”

"Without the coup, people would have continued killing each other. The new constitution might help to bring people back together." - Ms. Phola (32), fruit seller
"The information [of the drafting process]  is not enough, people don’t really know what's going on. So we can't really scrutinize the constitution drafting process." - Pitak Boonbangyang (48), street vendor "In my opinion, the new constitution won't resolve the conflict in society. But we still might have some hope." - Prathanah Gatechan (30), employee at a mobile phone shop "Every other government comes up with a new constitution, but the problem in Thailand is not with the constitution or the laws, it's with the people." - Jaratporn Khonkla (58), housekeeper "The constitution drafting process doesn’t really matter. It' s all against democracy." - Punjawat Namso (25) , Graduate Engineering Student
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"The information [of the drafting process] is not enough, people don’t really know what's going on. So we can't really scrutinize the constitution drafting process." - Pitak Boonbangyang (48), street vendor

Many respondents raised questions about the transparency of the constitution drafting process and voiced concerns about public participation. “There should be more information for the public, like what laws they are actually writing. This should be accessible to everyone,” says sixty-five-year-old worker Aod Tumyoma. “Also, I think there should be a national referendum on the new constitution,” he says.

Punjawat Namso, a twenty-five-year-old graduate from Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Engineering, criticizes the lack of public participation in the drafting process. “And this is mainly because this government has not come to power through an election,” he reasons.

The constitution drafting process seemed distant to many of those questioned. “For local people, the new constitution won’t really affect us much, it’s for those people up there, the politicians,” explains Jaratporn Khonkla, a fifty-eight-year-old housekeeper. As she starts her motorbike to take off, she adds “I don’t think it will bring anything new for the country.”

This view is echoed by Pitak Boonbangyang, a fourty-eight-year-old street vendor. As he packs up his stall, he says “They always change the constitution and come up with a new one. And then they don’t respect it. For how long should this go on?” He wipes his face with a towel that hangs over his shoulder and adds, “There really isn’t much hope for democracy in Thailand at the moment. It seems like the country doesn’t really know what democracy actually is.”

[For more thoughts from Khon Kaen on the drafting of the new constitution, click through the slideshows.]

"I don't think the new constitution will help to bridge the divide in society.People will come out again and protest when the time is ripe" - Sombat Toomjandee (56), market vendor

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