Thais vote after silent campaign

Yellow shirts protest in 2006. Thai demonstrations are a thing of the past. Source: Asean Economist

As Thailand votes in today’s constitutional referendum, there is still no formal “no” campaign.

On July 22, a 30-day blackout was enforced on Peace TV, which is loyal to the opposition to the Thai junta.

Results are expected late tonight (Sunday).

A few weeks ago, at a university campus, students were detained for releasing balloons saying “Campaigning is not wrong”. At least 120 people have been prosecuted for voicing opposition or criticising the draft and no international monitors are being allowed to cover the vote.

The draft constitution would reconstitute a lower house of 500 members but change the voting procedure for proportional representation and away from first-past-the post for each constituency, in order to reduce the power of the Shinawatra family’s Pheu Thai Party or “red shirts”, who have won every general election this century. The constitution would also make the senate a fully appointed chamber, presumably loyal to the military.

A second question on today’s ballot would give the appointed senate a role in picking the prime minister.

But a “no” vote no could leave the generals in place for longer and might lead to a new constitution being drafted that is even less democratic.

“The draft constitution aims to entrench the power of the military and traditional elite, and if it passes the referendum Thailand will move toward semi-authoritarianism guided by the military,” the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore said in a statement. “With the army’s power embedded in the constitution, backed by the Constitutional Court’s ‘state of exception’ powers, the traditional elites would in effect have designed new mechanisms to seize power without resorting to a military coup.”

In a bizarre development, Pokémon Go players have been warned against entering polling stations as they search for the cyber creatures.

Pokémon Go became available in Thailand this weekend along with 14 other nations in the wider region.

Election officers fear players might stumble into polling booths in the search for the virtual characters. The viral game uses satellite positioning, graphics and smartphone cameras to overlay cartoon monsters on real-world settings, challenging users to capture and train the characters for battles.

“I suggest to people who play Pokémon Go that if rare Pokémon appear in a polling stations, I ask for your cooperation in not playing the game,” chairman of the Election Commission Supachai Somcharoen told a press conference.