Speaking Truth to Power: Chiranuch Premchaiporn Addresses Parliament on the People’s Draft Constitutional Amendment

The protestors who have been in the streets since July 2020 in Thailand have three demands: 1) Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current prime minister who first came to power in the 22 May 2014 coup must resign and a new election held; 2) The 2017 Constitution, which became law through an undemocratic process and is fraught with problems, must be amended; and 3) The monarchy must be reformed. This trio of demands is the minimum necessary to build a foundation for the creation of possible democracy in which the people can participate as equals in the polity, rather than being dispossessed of their rights each time they try to do so.     

In November 2020, the Constitutional Advocacy Alliance, a peoples’ organization established to create a a network civil society organizations to amend the 2017 Constitution, launched their first attempt. In the People’s Draft Constitutional Amendment, they proposed eight key revisions, including replacing the 250 unelected, junta-appointed senators with 200 elected senators; no possibility of an unelected prime minister to be appointed; and no amnesty for the military junta that carried out the 2014 coup (read the full draft amendment and explanation here). After a nationwide campaign, 101,450 citizens — well over the 50,000 needed — signed and pledged their support for the amendment.

On 17 November, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, coordinator of the Constitutional Advocacy Alliance and a long-time media and human rights activist, addressed Parliament and presented the draft. Each draft bill must go through three different votes — which are called readings in the Thai system. The first reading is to affirm that Parliament agrees to examine a draft further. Chiranuch spoke to Parliament as a representative of the people, but also, significantly, as one of the people herself. She called on the members to be courageous enough to listen to the voices of the people. But they failed to do so. One day later, they voted against examining the People’s Draft Constitutional Amendment. Her full speech is translated below, and can be read in the original Thai here (from page 4 onwards).

Respected President of the National Assembly:

I, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, as a representative of the people who proposed an amendment to the constitution, feel that it is a great honor to be a representative of the democracy-loving people. I will submit to the honored members of parliament regarding the demand for and necessity of parliament to pass a resolution agreeing to the principles of the People’s Draft Constitutional Amendment in the first reading.

Allow me to emphasize once again that this is not the iLaw draft constitutional amendment, but it is the draft of the people for which iLaw actively took on the duty of coordination. Let’s go back to 7 August 2020, the day the “Tear Down Together, Build Together, Join Together to Draft the Constitution” campaign began. That day, representatives from tens of peoples’ organizations joined together to announce our intention to advance the voices of the people who wanted to amend the constitution. We did so with the faith that this is the way to lead our beloved Thailand back to democracy.

The groups and networks that united to search for a solution and dream of a society that is just and equal represent many ages and genders and are those who work and struggle on the ground to resolve problems. They believe that our society can be better than this. This is the case for Bad Student; Free People; Democracy Restoration Group; Human Rights Lawyers Association; People’s Network for a Welfare State; P-Move; People Go Network; Constitutional Advocacy Alliance, of which I am the coordinator; and many more unnamed groups and organizations to whom I apologize as I cannot list all of the names. In truth, the various names [of groups and organizations] are not as significant as asserting that the demand for and proposal of this amendment to the constitution is an action in the name of “the people.” The names of the hundred thousand people with the right to vote are not merely 202,900 pieces of paper, but they signify the will and desire of 101,450 of the people.[1] These people have flesh and blood, hearts and souls, and the hope that we will be able to participate in determining our own futures under the rules of democracy which are illuminated by a small opening through which the light of hope enters. I hope that the honored members of parliament will not rush to abort or steal this hope from the people. We are well aware that all theft is a sin, but to steal hope must be a particularly ruthless and depraved sin.

This is especially the case in a period in which the people’s dreams, hopes and act of simply living ordinary, sufficient lives have been continuously undermined and eroded since sovereignty was snatched from us six years ago. I have had the opportunity to chat with those who have attended political demonstrations during the past 3-4 months. Many have said directly that protesting is a very new experience for them. Throughout their entire lives, they never thought that they would come out to demonstrate and protest. But their worsening living conditions have made them decide to engage in political expression, including wholeheartedly putting their names down in support of amending the constitution. They share the view that the country must transform in order to find solutions to problems. The pact under which people coexist in the Kingdom of Thailand must be modified to uphold democratic principles, in which the people, who are the owners of the country, are the true holders of power.

The amendment of the entire constitution by a constitutional assembly that is fully elected is one of the demands of the people who have joined together to protest throughout the country. This demand was made on the first day the protests began and it continues to grow clearer and more emphatic. The [campaign’s] results are testimony that the people are not here to play and will not allow this to be a mere fantasy: the 101,450 names were collected in the space of a month and a half; a hundred volunteers sacrificed time and expended their energy tirelessly; people from many areas in Thailand volunteered to set up locations for people to come put down their names; thousands of envelopes carried tens of thousands of names via post.

A portion of the people who put down their names to amend the constitution had voted in favor of this constitution in 2016. They are among the 16 million referendum voters who have often been cited to make the process of amending the constitution difficult or nearly impossible. We surveyed 1,070 of those who previously voted in support of the constitution. Today, they have thought anew. 94% said that they did not have sufficient information before the referendum, 87% did not know know that the 250 senators would be selected by the NCPO, 85% did not know that the support of at least 84 senators would be needed to amend the constitution, and 79% did not know that that NCPO would remain following the election and that various actions and the issuing of various orders by the NCPO would not count as crimes.

Allow me to share the words of a chap lieng herbal juice vendor, age 31, who voted in favor of the constitution in 2016. She said that:

“I am aware that I am one of those who have done the youth wrong. They don’t have the right to choose anything at all. They didn’t grow up in time to choose anything and have to suffer the consequences of this constitution. Once they see the injustice of this constitution, they have to have the right to oppose it, they have to have the right to amend it. And we are trying to do so according to the method laid out in the constitution as you have written it yourselves.”

Today, there are 7 draft constitutional amendments proposed for the honored members to agree to in principle in the first reading. I hope that you will agree to all 7 drafts in principle in order to create the opportunity for this parliament to be a space in which a solution to the crisis and conflict in present-day society can be found. The best way to deal with conflict is to bring the matters at the heart of the problem — those on which there are differing opinions — and debate them to lead to their solution. I understand that the decision to perform the duty as a member of parliament — whether by being elected by the people or assenting to being selected by the NCPO — requires courage. I therefore very much hope that you will have sufficient moral courage to hear the voices of the people and will not be afraid to let the suggestions of the people, which are not present in other drafts — whether on the issue of the power and origin of the senators, the abandoning of the National Strategic Plan and the National Reform Plan, the origin of the independent organizations, or the increasing of the methods of electing members of the constitutional drafting assembly — which are issues and principles that the people have identified as problems, to be debated and moved on during the second and third readings.

As I stated from the beginning, this process of proposing a people’s draft constitutional amendment arises from the consent and cooperation of many diverse groups of the people. The proposals in the draft amendment resulted from a process of exchange and debate among the people. When you read it, you will see that the diversity of the people who participated means that it is a proposal born of compromise. It is not radical or polarizing in any way. If it leans in any particular direction, it is in a direction that respects democratic principles.

Democratic principles are grounded in humanity, the belief that humans are born equal, and the belief that humans are born and exist with goodness. Through this very belief, the people in this country still dare to dream and hope that they will be able to participate in building a society that is just and equal, a country in which the next generations will have a future.

There is no power of any kind capable of suppressing the winds of change that are blowing. If any of you think that you will stop the winds at their source by sealing off opportunities and silencing the voices of the people, I fear that these actions will transform the well-intentioned winds into a great storm in the future.

May you all be courageous.

Thank you.  

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn

[1] The 101,450 people who signed in support of the draft constitutional amendment each had to submit two documents: a form attesting to their support of the draft constitutional amendment and a photocopy of their citizen ID card—trans.

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