While the world is still reeling from the attempted military coup in Turkey – and collectively observing that military rule may be a thing of the past – Thailand has quietly accepted the constitution enforced on it by its ruling military junta which came into power through a coup in 2014.

On August 7, Thai voters were asked to affirm the new constitution and several changes the junta proposed, and while we still have to wait for the official count, initial scores indicate that the junta’s version has received the most support – as it was inevitably going to.

In the referendum no one was allowed to campaign against the military’s proposals. The new constitution promises to return the right to rule to the masses, but it does so under extreme conditions. The powers of the future elected government are curbed by hemming it in with unelected bodies, and other devices, such as an appointed upper house of parliament and a range of bodies that can override government decisions. This can barely be called a democracy, let alone a free one – and if history is any guide, this one will be short-lived.

This is the country’s 20th constitution since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. That number means that Thailand has changed constitutions on average every 4.2 years, about as frequently as other countries change governments. If this one fails to achieve consensus, we can expect another one soon.

Early indicators show just that; support for the constitution was only found in selected urban centres, while the majority of the rural north and Muslim south – which is facing an active separatist movement – voted against it.

Such fantastic figures are a global anomaly, showing us that the struggle between the ruling elite and the masses that want increased representation is not over in Thailand, despite the country ostensibly being a western-style ‘liberal democracy’ for decades now. Through overt coups or covert appropriation of democratic powers, the ruling elite has always sought to keep itself firmly positioned at the top in the face of growing public self-actualisation.

This problem isn’t unique to Thailand; neighbouring Myanmar, nearby Pakistan, and vast tracts of the Middle East are still struggling to convert their democracies into truly democratic systems. Thailand’s veritable defeat in this battle shows that even in 2016 – in the so-called age of the Internet – it is still possible for the ruling elite to manipulate information and communication to stay in power.