Thais vote on junta con­sti­tu­tion

The Myanmar Times - - World -

THAI­LAND voted on a junta-crafted con­sti­tu­tion yes­ter­day in a ref­er­en­dum where open de­bate has been banned, as op­po­nents warned the doc­u­ment will per­pet­u­ate mil­i­tary power and deepen di­vi­sions.

The polls of­fer Thais their first chance to vote since gen­er­als top­pled the elected gov­ern­ment of Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra in 2014.

The king­dom is split af­ter a decade of politi­cal tur­moil that has dented growth, seen democ­racy shunted aside and left scores dead in ri­val street protests.

The mil­i­tary say their new con­sti­tu­tion will curb en­demic politi­cal cor­rup­tion and bring sta­bil­ity af­ter the dizzy­ing merry-go-round of re­cent years.

But crit­ics say it aims to neuter civil­ian politi­cians and tighten the hold of the mil­i­tary – and their al­lies in the roy­al­ist elite – over the coun­try.

Potchana Su­rapitic, 53, who voted for the con­sti­tu­tion at a polling sta­tion here, said she was con­vinced the mil­i­tary’s prom­ise to hold full elec­tions next year was the coun­try’s best chance for sta­bil­ity.

“I want the sit­u­a­tion to re­turn to nor­mal and I want elec­tions,” she said.

“But I also want a gov­ern­ment that can man­age the coun­try. I don’t want it to be a vac­uum like be­fore.”

Elec­tion au­thor­i­ties had tar­geted an 80 per­cent turnout but in the run-up to the ref­er­en­dum ap­peared to have gar­nered lit­tle pub­lic en­thu­si­asm.

A low turnout is likely to favour the mil­i­tary, while a big show­ing from the Ms Yingluck’s pop­u­lous north­ern heart­lands could de­feat the doc­u­ment.

Ms Yingluck, whose party rejects the draft char­ter, urged Thais to par­tic­i­pate in the polls.

“To­day is a very im­por­tant day for Thai­land ... Go and vote,” she told re­porters.

Thai­land has a long his­tory of tur­bu­lence.

The mil­i­tary has suc­cess­fully seized power 12 times since the end of ab­so­lute monar­chy in 1932 and this con­sti­tu­tion will be at least the king­dom’s 20th if passed.

But the lat­est chap­ter of the

politi­cal cri­sis – dubbed the “lost decade” – has been painful.

Since a 2006 coup, power has flipped be­tween elected gov­ern­ments led by or linked to self­ex­iled bil­lion­aire Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra – Ms Yingluck’s el­der brother – and rule by the army and its es­tab­lish­ment sup­port­ers.

The ten­sion has been com­pounded by the frail health of 88-year-old King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, as elites jos­tle ahead of any tran­si­tion. –

Photo: AFP

Thai vot­ers mark their bal­lots at a lo­cal polling sta­tion as a se­cu­rity of­fi­cial (right) keeps watch dur­ing the con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum in Bangkok on Au­gust 7.

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