Members of the military-appointed senate, many of them generals and military officials, escaped from parliament on Thursday by boat and the back-exit rather than face angry pro-democracy demonstrators after they voted to postpone amending the constitution.
The combined houses of parliament voted 432 to 255 to set up exploratory committees to study potential amendments to the military-drafted constitution instead of amending the charter on Thursday night.
It prompted the opposition parties to walk out of parliament in protest with the leader of the Move Forward Party, Pita Limjaroenrat, calling the vote “a way to stall for time” and said that parliament’s decision on Thursday was moving the country towards a dead end.
Pro-democracy protests have taken place for the past three months, with tens of thousands of demonstrators descending onto the streets of Bangkok. The protesters say they want parliament to amend the current charter because it was drafted by the military and was undemocratic and for the government of General Prayut Chan-ocha to hold fresh polls after the charter was fixed.
Specifically, the demonstrators pointed to the military-appointed senates’ power in picking the prime minister even though they did not come from elections.
Legal groups have gathered over 100,000 signatures demanding a change to the constitution, however to no avail. Critics say the move was self-serving and a low-point for the unpopular upper body.
“When you thought the 250 military-appointed Senators could not go any lower, they have done exactly that today. Their actions today confirm beyond any doubt (if there were still any) the truth that this current Senate is nothing more than a shameless instrument for Gen Prayuth and the military to extend their authoritarian regime,” said Parit Wacharasindhu, one of the leaders of the constitutional workshop which focuses on public participation in constitutional reform.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered on Thursday evening in front of parliament to put pressure on the MPs and the senators to address the constitution in a meaningful way.
However, Thursday’s move by parliament means that protests will likely continue.
Anon Numpha, a key protest leader, told reporters and protesters that now was the time to step up protests and called for more rallies in October.
The protesters stayed on after the vote to applaud opposition MPs and boo government parliamentarians. Protesters spoken to by Thai Enquirer say that they will not give up the fight and will continue to put pressure on the government.
With parliament now in recess, it could be months before the issue is tabled again.