Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Thailand to reform constitution

PROGRESS Well-known lawyer and academic Noranit Setabutr was elected to head the Constitution Drafting Council, promising to have it ready for a vote in six months

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thailand's post-coup leaders regained some momentum yesterday after a series of embarrassing setbacks, seeing the Constitution Drafting Council (CDC) they created elect a chairman and vow speedy progress.

Lawyer and political professor Noranit Setabutr, 65-year-old favorite for the post, promised to have a new constitution ready to put to a referendum within six months.

```The new constitution must bring about democracy, help resolve the political crisis, be acceptable to the people and bring the country back to normalcy,'' Noranit said.

Noranit is widely regarded as a neutral figure without leaning toward any political party. He was long time dean of the law faculty at Bangkok's Thammasat University and former secretary-general of the King Prachadhipok Institute.

It will probably be another two weeks before the council actually gets down to debating a new constitution as King Bhumibol Adulyadej must first approve Noranit's appointment. But that is considered a formality, and settling the leadership of the committee is a major step forward.

Producing a constitution will be a critical milestone for the military, which ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sept. 19 in the country's first coup in 15 years.

The Council for National Security, as the coup leaders call themselves, promised to hold a general election under a new constitution within a year after acting to end what they called rampant corruption under Thaksin.

They won applause from the urban middle class for ending a months-long political crisis which included big street protests accusing Thaksin of undermining the constitution and amassing excessive personal power.

But almost four months after the coup, the military-appointed government's standing with an increasingly restive public had diminished with little concrete progress discernible.

Promised corruption charges against Thaksin and his allies has yet to emerge from investigations, and progress towards a new constitution appeared to be moving at a snail's pace.

The military and government were then severely undermined on New Year's Eve by a spate of small bombs in Bangkok which killed three people, wounded 38 and left the city in shock.

Army-picked Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, whose government undermined investor confidence last month by imposing sudden currency controls which sent the stock market down 15 percent in a day, told people to brace for more such attacks.

Rumors of a counter coup last week proved unfounded, but that did little to calm the city, where two opinion polls conducted by universities showed the government's popularity down from 90 percent to 50 percent.

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