Thai lawmakers Thursday failed to reach an agreement on a pathway to amend the constitution, further angering anti-government demonstrators calling for more democracy and reform of the monarchy.
The parliament overwhelmingly backed a proposal to set up a panel to study various plans to amend the charter written by a military-appointed panel after a 2014 coup. The vote, mostly backed by the key ruling party and the Senate, means the process for rewriting the constitution will be pushed back by at least one month. Opposition parties said they won’t join the panel mooted by the government.
Hundreds of agitated demonstrators, who had gathered outside the parliament, tried to stop vehicles of some senators and lawmakers leaving the house after the decision. The protesters have been hitting the streets since July to demand changes that include scrapping the military-appointed senate — which played a key role in the return of coup leader Prayut Chan-ocha as prime minister after the election last year — and reining in the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“It’s part of their tactics to delay the process because they want to hold on to their power,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok. “The protest movement will likely escalate from this point, with more people including the opposition parties joining the movement.”
Opposition parties said they were disappointed by parliament’s decision. Sompong Amornvivat, a leader of the Pheu Thai party, said the government “doesn’t sincerely want the changes that people want.” Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of Move Forward, the second largest opposition party, said “there’s still hope for charter amendment.”
The process of rewriting the constitution, expected to take about a year and involve a referendum, will ultimately require the king’s endorsement. The current military-backed constitution, Thailand’s 20th since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, made it easy for Prayut and his allies to keep power after an election last year that ended five years of rule by a junta.
The king hasn’t publicly addressed the protests, and Prayut has called for patience on charter amendment, saying he was happy that the country was peaceful, allowing the government to “continue our work, especially on the economy.”
The growing protest movement is an additional challenge for Prayut’s year-old administration, which is trying to revive Thailand’s trade-and-tourism-reliant economy with foreign investors fleeing from its stocks and bonds. Overseas investors have net sold more than $10 billion of Thai stocks and bonds so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The protesters have busted long-held taboos in Thailand about publicly criticizing the monarchy. One of the protest groups, the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, has called on Prayut to resign and issued a 10-point demand to reform the monarchy, including revoking strict laws criminalizing insults against top members of the royal family.
The Thammasat group has also called for a general strike on Oct. 14. They urged supporters to show solidarity by not standing during the royal anthem and have called for a boycott of Siam Commercial Bank PCL, in which the king is the biggest shareholder.
Arnon Nampa, a lawyer and one of the prominent leaders of the protest movement, on Thursday questioned the need to set up a committee to study proposals for charter amendment after a two-day debate. He said it’s “disrespectful” to the people and vowed to strengthen the protests.