As Meechai Ruchupan sets about redrafting his constitution to suit the whim of the new king of Thailand, perhaps it’s worth remembering an alternative version was put forward in Brunch magazine a year ago. That, too, went through a drafting committee and editing process. (Karl Marx and Douglas Adams were cut out, better jokes were put in.) Here, for the record, is the original.
The ghosts of constitutions past haunt us. There are 19 charters that have all been torn up, turfed out or otherwise left to gather dust: a shelf full of failure to rival the oeuvre of Tom Clancy. The first attempt at the 20th was drafted but never made it to the printer, and a second is due soon.
Sadly, there was no fresh manuscript neatly wrapped under the Christmas tree. We did get a new Star Wars film in time for the holidays (spoiler: the rolling robot’s the best character) but we still have to wait for the latest gift from the Constitution Drafting Committee. Will Meechai Ruchupan channel the excitement of the original trilogy of the 70s and 80s, the one with the ruthless empire stomping around in smart uniforms, or the version from the late 90s that dealt with venal – but nevertheless elected – politicians debating then voting on legislation?
Those who have read his previous work think they know what to expect, but it is tempting to imagine the world’s most experienced constitution writer being visited at night by the ghosts of his predecessors and having a Dickensian epiphany.
“Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike,” Plato might remind him, the ancient Greek philosopher having had an idea or two about representative government so long as women and slaves were kept well out of it.
George Washington presided over the convention that led to the US constitution, then the country itself. “The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government,” his ghost might say.
Washington left much of the actual constitution writing to James Madison, who had pithier slogans. “The truth is that all men having power must be mistrusted.” “Philosophy is common sense with big words.” “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Sprinkle a few phrases like that throughout and suddenly explanations of mixed-member proportional representation and redistribution of party-list votes become a little more palatable.
Karl Marx bestowed on the world a manifesto that was destined to have a greater impact than manifest destiny. A visit from Marx’s spectre would give Mr Meechai a jolt about the plight of the proletariat, but probably won’t convert him into a champion of democracy. Marx was no fan of popular rule – he and Mr Meechai have that in common – having described voting as the oppressed being “allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them”. Douglas Adams said it better: “If they didn’t vote for a lizard, the wrong lizard might get in.”
Accepting, as we apparently must, that the right to choose the country’s political leaders will not return any time soon, why not issue a constitution that addresses the concerns of people who just want to get on with their lives? Fixing the broken roads across the map might take less time than finishing the long and winding roadmap to elections.
Writing constitutions is not an easy business. The United Kingdom has survived quite nicely with its “unwritten” constitution, but it is scattered throughout a cloud of statutes, court judgements, treaties and whatnot. The South African constitution has been described as one of the world’s best, and at 18 years old is coming into maturity with its biggest test yet in the form of Jacob Zuma. The preamble has a lovely line saying the country “belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”. A Thai constitution with a similar sentiment could be read as both a step towards reconciliation and a rebuke to the man in Dubai.
Tricky as it is, we’ve given it some thought and come up with a 10-point plan that will improve our lives immensely. Trust us. You don’t even need to vote for it.
So, take a deep draught and enjoy the new draft.
All public servants should serve the public. This idea is probably the most radical, being totally opposite to conventional thinking. Political office holders, bureaucrats, police, teachers and the armed forces will be required to work for the people rather than their own self-interest. This might take some getting used to, and it is possible a lot of people will have to find new jobs. Police will enforce the law, and do such potentially life-saving things as taking the keys away from those who think motorcycles are suitable for four or more children without helmets. Immigration officials will not take as long as possible to stamp 90-day notifications while watching the clock tick towards lunch. Teachers will be more concerned about improving children’s brains than wearing silk just because it’s a Friday. The army will be packed up and labelled with the following warning: For external use only.
No one would be silly enough to promise to fix Bangkok’s congestion in six months, right? But a few simple steps would ease a lot of frustration.
(i) Eliminate the traffic police who change the lights only when the stars align on auspicious days or whenever they come to the realisation no more cars can cram into the intersection. Computerised traffic lights work pretty well everywhere else in the world, and it would be good if the days of waiting 12 minutes at a five-way intersection or 25 to turn right from Rama IV onto Sukhumvit were behind us.
(ii) Remove the empty taxis whose drivers refuse to take passengers, freeing up road space for those trying to get anywhere. Instead of a tax deduction to put more cars on the road, a congestion tax would encourage a greater use of public transport.
(iii) Dreams of more and faster train lines going further into the suburbs are coming to fruition, and as soon as Saphan Taksin station gets demolished trains can run twice as often on the Silom line.
(iv) A single ticket for trains and buses must be introduced by the end of 2016. No excuses, millions have already been spent on feasibility studies and consultants.
(v) Buy some new buses. It would be nice if they had signs we could read, too.
All prime-time lakorn soap operas will be allowed to air in full in their time slots. Announcements about states of emergency or updates from any body calling itself the National Council for Maintaining Peaceful Democratic Reform (or any variation thereof) can wait until we know whether the tragic heroine who gambled her son’s inheritance away has succumbed to a bout of karmic syphilis. Any political programme with a title like Returning Happiness or PM Chaturon Meets the People will be relegated to Saturday morning where it can be safely ignored.
There is no Section 44.
(i) The 8am assemblies at school will be abolished. This relic of fascist dictatorships past serves no discernible purpose other than to count the number of students present and let teachers moan about kids not keeping their shirts tucked in, neither of which need be done under a hot sun.
(ii) The value of a school uniform is questionable at best, but during the years education is mandatory it does have the virtue of reducing the distinction between rich and poor classmates. At the very least they should be banned in university, where the focus should be on pushing boundaries and exploring ideas rather than churning out more clones for the workforce.
(iii) Instead of a 300m ban on alcohol around schools, since selling booze to teenagers is already illegal, an exclusion zone should be introduced against street vendors’ junk food. Any student who wishes to purchase deep-fried chicken, grilled pork or fish balls swimming in sweet-chilli sauce must prove they can walk far enough to earn it.
Everyone must be treated equally before the law. This should hold true whether you’re a migrant worker from Myanmar or the scion of a beverage empire.
There has long been handwringing over the question of whether Thainess is even a thing, and if so, what is it exactly? The ability to eat sticky rice for breakfast is an indicator, but not a conclusive one. A committee of 12 Khunyings Na Somewhere Fancy will put their well-coifed heads together and issue a set of criteria to end the matter. The judges’ decision is final and no further correspondence will be entered into.
Free condoms for everyone, regardless of age or sexual prefence.
(i) Every square metre of land not being developed as a condominium will be treated as a potential commercial space.
(ii) For every two square metres of commercial space, one must be devoted to cafes that sell oversized iced sugar beverages that bear a distant relationship to coffee.
(iii) Christmas trees measuring no less than five metres tall and three metres wide must be placed in or around any shopping mall of three storeys or more, and must be erected between Nov 15 and 30 and taken down before the end of January.
* The clauses in this section will not change anything, but are designed to regulate a situation that is currently out of control.
The next person who stages a coup, rips up the constitution and give themselves an amnesty will be strapped into the contraption from A Clockwork Orange and forced to watch all six Naresuan films.