Everyone has a point of view, but the view is blurred by ignorance and misinformation.
While the debate over whether to amend the Constitution of 2007 is the hottest political issue of the moment, a recent survey by ABAC Poll shows that almost 70 per cent of respondents have never read the constitutions of either 1997 or 2007. And more than half said their opinion towards both constitutions came largely from politicians or news reports. The ABAC poll shows that more than 68 per cent of respondents never read the Constitution written in 1997, and more than 65 per cent never read the 2007 Constitution.
It may be true that many people in other countries never set eyes on their constitutions either. Nonetheless, the ABAC figures seem to be in complete contrast to the emotionally charged debate about the constitution in Thailand at the moment. Every day we read and hear news about different groups calling for changes to the Charter. Red-shirt leaders are planning to seek more than 100,000 signatures to pressure for amendments to the 2007 Constitution, while opponents on the other side of the debate believe that any amendment will be untimely.
However, more than 77 per cent of the ABAC respondents said they didn’t have sufficient information to decide whether to approve of a referendum to change the Charter.
Public eagerness and enthusiasm on political issues is a welcome development in our society. Participation provides an effective check and balance, and serves as a constant warning to politicians to best serve the public interest. The ABAC poll also revealed that 63.6 per cent of respondents believe the existence of opposing viewpoints on constitutional reform is a normal political issue in Thailand.
Political debate is essential in any democratic system, for it provides a channel for people to air their grievances and their discontent at the actions of politicians. However, there are times when certain issues are highly politicised until the essence of the issue is lost in the debate – especially when emotions run high. Such emotionally charged differences are not rare. The ongoing debate over healthcare reform in the US is an example.
In Thailand, the question of whether to amend the Charter is perhaps the most important current political debate. Yet, only a few people really understand what the Constitution contains. Most people are still relying on the self-serving opinions of politicians for their information on the Charter.
We are not saying whether amendment of the Charter would be the right or wrong decision. But this latest survey should serve as a reminder that debates on many issues will be more constructive if all sides have received sufficient factual information to enable them to understand and judge the issues, and formulate views and responses that will serve their best interest.
Thailand has its fair share of controversial issues, all of which should reflect the workings of democracy – with everything on the table for all stakeholders to see. The enthusiasm is there already. It’s our duty to learn about the issues and make our judgements wisely. Otherwise, we become proxies to serve the particular vested interests of certain groups.
By The Nation
Published on October 13, 2009