King en­dorses con­sti­tu­tion sup­ported by mil­i­tary junta

Coup lead­ers give no date on next elec­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY KAWEEWIT KAEWJINDA

BANGKOK | Thai­land’s king signed the coun­try’s new mil­i­tary-backed con­sti­tu­tion on Thurs­day, ap­prov­ing a char­ter that could see the rul­ing junta al­low fresh elec­tions but limit the au­thor­ity of the politi­cians who even­tu­ally take office.

King Va­ji­ra­longkorn Bod in­dra de bay a var an gkun en­dorsed the doc­u­ment in an elab­o­rate cer­e­mony at the Ananta Sa­makhom Throne Hall at­tended by se­nior mem­bers of the coun­try’s mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment as well as for­eign diplo­mats. It be­comes the na­tion’s 20th con­sti­tu­tion since the ab­so­lute monar­chy was abol­ished in 1932.

The mil­i­tary junta, which seized con­trol of the coun­try in a coup nearly three years ago, has said the pro­mul­ga­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion will clear the way for new elec­tions no later than Novem­ber 2018, though it has re­peat­edly de­layed pre­vi­ous promised poll dates.

In a tele­vised speech Thurs­day night, Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha said the gov­ern­ment’s timetable did not al­low for an ex­act date for the elec­tions to be set be­cause of the need to pass sev­eral laws to al­low polling to be held.

“Once the elec­tions are held and the new gov­ern­ment is formed, this gov­ern­ment will hand over its du­ties to the new gov­ern­ment and will cease its du­ties,” he said.

An ear­lier ver­sion of the new char­ter was ap­proved by vot­ers in a public ref­er­en­dum last year, though cam­paigns against the doc­u­ment were out­lawed by the junta, which still re­stricts free­dom of speech and as­sem­bly in the coun­try. The mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment says the doc­u­ment is needed to move the coun­try past more than a decade of po­lit­i­cal un­rest, fac­tional con­flict and so­cial divi­sion that have been punc­tu­ated by two coups and mul­ti­ple rounds of deadly street protests.

Crit­ics say the con­sti­tu­tion — drafted by a jun­taap­pointed panel — is un­demo­cratic, will al­low the mil­i­tary to keep its grip on power even af­ter elec­tions and will ul­ti­mately deepen the coun­try’s divi­sions. They say the char­ter lim­its the power of vot­ers by em­pow­er­ing un­elected bod­ies, cre­at­ing a fully ap­pointed se­nate that in­cludes mil­i­tary com­man­ders and neu­ter­ing the au­thor­ity of elected of­fi­cials.

“In ad­di­tion to the mil­i­tary, the ju­di­ciary and other ac­count­abil­ity-pro­mot­ing agen­cies are less con­nected and ac­count­able to the elec­torate be­cause the up­per cham­ber is now a mil­i­tary do­main, no longer elected by the peo­ple,” said Thiti­nan Pong­sud­hi­rak, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity.

He said Thurs­day’s “ma­jor” cer­e­mony meant the con­sti­tu­tion “has a bet­ter chance of stay­ing around longer than its pre­de­ces­sors and, there­fore, demo­cratic as­pi­ra­tions in the char­ter will have to be ex­pressed via amend­ments rather than a com­plete re­write.”

The draft signed Thurs­day was mod­i­fied af­ter last year’s ref­er­en­dum to give the king more pow­ers. The sign­ing cer­e­mony took place on Chakri Day, an an­nual hol­i­day mark­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of the Chakri dy­nasty. King Va­ji­ra­longkorn is the 10th king in the dy­nasty, hav­ing in­her­ited the throne from his father, King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, who died in Oc­to­ber.

The new con­sti­tu­tion will do lit­tle to re­verse hu­man rights prob­lems that arose un­der mil­i­tary rule, London-based hu­man rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said.

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