Thailand is holding a referendum on a new constitution Aug. 7, but many international observers consider it a farce. The ruling military government has banned independent monitoring of the vote and threatened prison terms of up to 10 years for anyone who criticizes or even discusses the draft in public.
The junta that has ruled Thailand since a May 2014 coup says the new constitution is a step toward stability in a nation blighted by bloody street protests and political paralysis. But the document empowers the armed forces, allowing them to appoint a third of the legislature and influence the choice of Prime Minister.
No effort has been spared to silence dissent. Two 8-year-old girls were even charged with obstructing the referendum after they tore down voter lists posted at a school because they liked the paper’s pink color. Although most Thais are unhappy at this affront to democracy, there’s a chance the constitution could be approved, as widespread boycotts of the vote are likely. The junta has vowed to stay in power if it loses the vote.
Thai juntas are notoriously bad at drafting constitutions. Thailand has seen 19 constitutions scrapped since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, nearly all drafted by the military and then abrogated by generals who disliked the governments that emerged. Few believe No. 20 will prove any different, with more protests a distinct possibility.
This appears in the August 08, 2016 issue of TIME.