Thailand’s military-backed legislature yesterday (6 September) rejected an unpopular draft of a new constitution, in what was described by Western media as political theatre prevailing in the country following a coup last year.
Those who drafted the document were picked by the junta, and had hoped that the proposed charter would move the southeast Asian country past almost a decade of political conflicts, but it was met with strong opposition on almost all sides of the political divide.
The legislature appointed by the junta, known as the National Reform Council, voted down the draft 135-105, with seven abstentions. The rejection, although welcomed by many, will postpone elections which would normally had taken place next year. The new turn of events in fact extends the junta’s rule.
A new 21-member drafting committee will now be appointed with a mandate to write a new charter within 180 days. It also needs approval by the legislature and will be put to a referendum – meaning elections aren’t likely until at least 2017, according to analysts, if the new draft is approved.
The army seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014, toppling the remnants of the Pheu Thai Party-led government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the coup, has ruled largely unchallenged since.
The junta is determined not to allow the return to power of the opposition red-shirt movement, which supported the ousted government of Thaksin Shinawatra and later, of his sitser Yingluck Shinawatra.
Of particular concern is a proposal for a 23-member National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation committee, dominated by the military, which allows the security services to take power in a time of crisis.
Undemocratic provisions in the draft constitution include filling the parliament with unelected members (according to the draft the House of Senators can have up to 123 appointed members out of a total of 200), as well as the immunity of the military junta from the rule of law.
Thailand’s rulers appear overwhelemed following the bombing attack on a Hindu shrine on 17 August that killed 20 people and injured more than 100. 14 foreigners were among those killed in a blast the military government said was aimed at dealing a blow to an already ailing economy.