Thai voters go to the polls on August 7 to vote in a referendum on the draft constitution. The referendum is part of a process that the ruling military junta have described as the ‘road-map to democracy’ which is supposed to lead to elections in 2017. The army took power in Thailand in May 2014 with the man who led the military coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, currently serving as the prime minister.
What is the Thai referendum about?
There are two questions Thais will be asked to vote on in the referendum. The first is whether they accept the draft constitution drawn up by a military appointed committee in 2016. The second question is more ambiguous. In essence, voters are being asked to accept or reject the notion that senators (appointed by the military junta) can vote alongside elected MPs to choose the prime minister.
The referendum result
If the draft constitution is accepted, supporters of the coup will see it as a vote of approval for the junta. Elections could take place in mid-2017 although there are various scenarios which could see the timetable for elections delayed still further.
If the draft constitution is rejected it will be a blow for the military government and it isn’t known how they will respond. However, whichever way the vote goes the junta will remain in power. Prime Minister Prayuth has made it clear that he won’t step down, but he has also previously promised elections in 2017. Speaking earlier this year the former army general said, “No matter whether the draft constitution passes the referendum or not, the government will hold the election in 2017 according to our roadmap . . . I promise that in July 2017 there will definitely be an election.”
What does the Thai referendum mean for tourists?
The continuing saga of Thai politics remains an internal affair, but there are some things about the referendum that foreign visitors should be aware of. The military junta has put in place restrictions on how the referendum can be reported and how it can be discussed. Critics have been arrested and there have been some bizarre incidents which reveal just how sensitive an issue the referendum is. Whilst the regulations are aimed at Thais, it’s something to be aware of if you are in Thailand now or visiting over the next week. As a foreign tourist, it’s best not to get involved in any discussions about Thai politics.
During national and local elections in Thailand there are temporary restrictions in place on alcohol sales. As part of those existing regulations, there will be a nationwide ban on alcohol sales in Thailand from 6pm on August 6 through to midnight on August 7.