Thailand unveils draft charter

Thailand’s military has enshrined its ongoing influence. Source: Wikimedia

Thailand’s constitutional committee has revealed a new charter draft which calls for a fully appointed senate and the possibility for an unelected prime minister. The ruling generals have banned criticism of the draft.

The Constitution Drafting Committee‘s chairman Meechai Ruchupan, 77, presented the documents, which will be put to a national referendum on August 7.

If the constitution is adopted in the referendum, a general election is scheduled for July 2017, more than three years after the military took power after months of political unrest.

It was unveiled at 1:39pm because number nine, “gao” in Thai, sounds like the word for “advance”, mirroring the junta’s supposed ethos.

The Election Commission said it expected 80 per cent of voters to take part in the referendum.

“The constitution is not meant to give sole power to citizens but to ensure the well-being of the citizens,” Meechai said.

The constitution empowers the junta to appoint all 250 senators, leaving six seats for the heads of the armed forces. This senate would keep the lower house in check during a five-year transitional period following the first election.

“The senate will serve in an advisory capacity and when there are problems within the House of Representatives, it will step in for a joint session of both houses,” Meechai told the media.

The military would also have the power to appoint the prime minister, he said. “If there’s no reason to use this clause, then it won’t be used. It will be up to the elected MPs.” 

The new prime minister could be selected if more than 250 MPs supported the motion and approved by a joint session of both houses. This would provide the military with an effective veto on the premiership. 

Politicians from all major parties criticised the draft for enshrining the military’s ongoing influence, while doing nothing to address the nation’s divisions. 

Paul Chambers, an academic in Thailand, said it would prolong military rule and establish a “frail democracy” which would be subservient to the junta-selected senate.

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

“Because of the transition period outlined in the new charter, military rule in Thailand could well extend to eight years: 2014-2017 of direct military rule; 2017-2022 of military veto power,” he said.

A politician was arrested for a Facebook post which called for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign if the constitution was rejected by the referendum.

Freedom of speech and to protest have been deeply restricted since the military took power in May 2014.