Thais vote on junta constitution
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. –
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.