Thais back military charter

Elected members of the Thai assembly will be far weaker. Source: Wikimedia



The Thai electorate has overwhelmingly approved the junta-drafted constitution that lays the foundation for a civilian government dominated by the military and controlled by appointed, not elected, representatives. 

Around 62 per cent voted in favour of the new constitution, while 38 per cent rejected it, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told the media.

“The junta will feel empowered by this. This is the only basis of legitimacy they have had since seizing power,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, adding that the result effectively endorsed the military’s dubious efforts to eliminate corruption from politics.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his fellow generals will see the vote as a sign that their rule has brought a level of stability and ended protests and polarised politics that have left Thai society fraying at the edges.

The new constitution “speaks to a lot of worries and concerns that a majority of Thai people have”, said Gothom Areeya, a professor at Thailand’s Mahidol University. “Many Thais want to see an end to corruption and the return of peace and development. Even though experts like me may criticise it a lot, our message just didn’t reach a lot of the people.”

Voters were also asked if they wanted an appointed senate to help choose the prime minister with 58 per cent saying “yes”, Somchai said.

Around 55 per cent of the 50 million voters apparently took part.

The military imposed heavy restrictions in the run-up to the referendum, banning gatherings or open discussion of the charter.

“It adds that touch of legitimacy to the coup makers,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto University in Japan. “It gives them the green light for the next few steps they want to take. They will say the opposition cannot say anything now. [The armed forces] will have the constitution as a remote control. The constitution can be used as a device to hold onto political power.”

The charter says there will be a transition of at least five years to civilian rule, a 250-seat appointed senate will include senior military officers and deadlock in the 500-member elected lower house allows the appointment of a prime minister who is not an MP. It also says that emergency decrees enacted by the junta without any parliamentary consent remain on the books.