Thais are being encouraged to cast their vote in an Aug. 7 referendum that could approve a new constitution and therefore legitimize the military government. The referendum is the first step, which requires public participation after more than two years of military rule. In 2014, the army staged a coup overthrowing the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and vowed to make Thailand more democratic and corruption-free.

The military then laid out the so-called road map to democracy and appointed cronies to draft the constitution. The outcome is similar to the one witnessed in Myanmar, with the Tatmadaw, or the Myanmar Armed Forces, taking charge of political reforms with an attempt to preserve a degree of political power for itself. Today, the Tatmadaw holds up to 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. In the Thai case, representatives of the army will sit in the Senate, which will serve as an instrument of the old power, to counterbalance future civilian governments.

The referendum is crucial for the survival of the military regime under the premiership of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. If approved, the constitution will add a layer of legitimacy on the coup makers. More importantly, it will give a green light to future steps taken by the junta to complete the road map. This explains why the government is compelled to ensure a positive outcome of the referendum.