Victory for generals as junta charter approved
THAILAND voted to approve a juntascripted constitution, preliminary results showed, in a boost to the army’s political aspirations and a body blow to the country’s stuttering pro-democracy movement.
The military says its new constitution will curb endemic political corruption, bring stability after years of unrest and pave the way for a general election next year.
But critics say it aims to neuter civilian politicians and introduce a tethered democracy under the stewardship of the military and its royalist allies.
Unofficial results released by the Election Commission showed 61.4 percent of the country backed the document, with 38.6pc voting “no”.
Authorities gave a subdued turnout estimate of 55pc of Thailand’s 50.2 million registered voters, after a poll run-up that saw independent campaigning and open debate barred. Official results will be released tomorrow.
The August 7 referendum was the first time Thais have been able to go to the polls since former army chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.
The kingdom is split after a decade of political turmoil that has damaged growth, seen democracy shunted aside and left scores dead in rival street protests.
Triumphant junta leader Mr Prayut, who has struggled for two years to convince many Thais of his ability to unite the country, swiftly hailed the win as step toward “a bona fide democracy” free from graft.
In a terse message released through the prime minister’s office, he also hit out at “interference by foreign elements” using “malicious intent”, without naming the parties.
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations all criticised the bar on debate and campaigning in the lead-up to the polls.
Pro-democracy social media users were quick to lament a result that kicks back aspirations of a return to full civilian rule.
A Twitter handle called RIP_Thailand said, “RIP democracy, completely stepping into army dictatorship”.
But Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the anti-junta Red Shirt movement, struck a defiant note.
“I want to tell Prayut that your victory is nothing to be proud of as your opponents had no chance to fight,” he said, referring to the ban on campaigning before the vote.
The preliminary results illustrated the kingdom’s geographic divide.
Only the impoverished, rural northeast – a region that has voted in droves for successive Shinawatra governments – and the deep south – hit by a Muslim insurgency – voted against the charter.
But millions came out in favour of the military’s charter, especially in the capital and the south. –
A member of the New Democracy party crying after the ‘Yes’ victory in the Constitutional Referendum at Thammasat University on Aug 7.