Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Thai legislature rejects charter, delays elections

AP, Bangkok

Thailand’s military-backed legislature yesterday rejected an unpopular draft of a new constitution, delaying a return to democracy following a coup last year.

The junta-picked drafters had hoped the proposed charter would move the Southeast Asian nation past almost a decade of political conflicts, but it was met with strong opposition on almost all sides of the political divide.

The legislature appointed by the junta, known as the National Reform Council, voted down the draft 135-to-105, with seven abstentions. The rejection, although welcomed by many, still sets back a tentative plan for Thailand’s transition to electoral democracy, with the military retaining substantial powers until a new constitution is drafted.

A new 21-member drafting committee is now to be appointed with a mandate to write a new charter within 180 days. It also needs approval by the legislature and is to be put to a referendum — meaning elections are not likely until at least 2017, according to analysts, if the new draft is approved.

The government had previously said elections could take place late next year.

One of the most contentious provisions in the draft included a 23-member panel, including military personnel, that would be empowered to take over from the parliament and prime minister in times of “national crisis.”

Any new charter under the junta appeared aimed at preventing a political comeback by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the revered Thai king. Thailand has remained divided since, with Thaksin’s supporters and opponents struggling for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

The military abolished an earlier constitution last year after it ousted Thaksin’s sister and former Thai prime minster Yingluck Shinawatra and the government operates under a temporary charter. The junta later picked the drafters and the 247-member National Reform Council to help write a new constitution.

“We might not be able to say that this is a true democracy as viewed in the Western world; it is transitional democracy,’’ constitution drafting committee spokesman Kamnoon Sidhisamarn said before the vote yesterday.

Supporters and opponents of Thaksin, as well as academics and activists, have criticized the draft, while the ruling military has stifled public debate on it.

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