Thailand unveils latest draft constitution

BANGKOK // A panel appointed by Thailand’s military junta on Tuesday unveiled a draft constitution touted as the solution to a decade-long political crisis, but derided by critics as undemocratic and divisive.

Thailand has been controlled by the army since a 2014 coup overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose billionaire family has swept the last three elections but was opposed by the Bangkok elite.

Under the draft consitition, a junta-appointed senate would check the powers of lawmakers for a five-year transitional period following elections.

The document also enshrines a proportional voting system, a move that would be likely to reduce the majority held by any elected government once Thais regain the right to vote.

The drafters said their proposed constitution – which if adopted would be the kingdom’s 20th in less than a century – will end the cycle of elections, street protests and coups.

“We see it as a return to a period where you don’t have people confronting each other on the streets,” constitutional drafting committee spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said.

“That is what the majority of Thais want.”

Critics said it was aimed squarely at breaking the Shinawatras’ electoral stranglehold on the country.

The document is scheduled to go to the public in a referendum on August 7.

However, the junta has warned it will not tolerate criticism of the charter in the run-up to the vote, making debate all but impossible.

“I have laws in hand. Whoever violates those laws, legal action will be taken against them,” junta chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha said.

Two opposition politicians have been detained by the military this week for voicing criticism of the draft constitution and the junta.

Paul Chambers, a Thailand-based academic, said the document would in effect prolong army rule and establish a “frail democracy” easily controlled by a junta-stacked senate.

“It is a charter which expands military and judicial power at the expense of democracy,” he said.

In the run-up to the unveiling, the charter was criticised by both sides of the political divide, even those who welcomed the toppling of the government led by Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party.

Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the Red Shirt movement loyal to the Shinawatras, hit out on Tuesday.

“If they (the military) want to return democracy to Thais, (they should) return whole – not partial – democracy,” he said.

Pheu Thai’s bitter rival, the Democrat Party, has not yet said what it will advise voters but its leader, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, criticised the charter.

Thailand is no stranger to constitutional rewrites but these have done little to calm its turbulent politics. The general public often shrugs off the passage of a document seen as heavily biased and liable to change with the political winds.

* Agence France-Presse

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