Thai Constitution Draft Rejected by Junta's Reform Council

  • Charter failure will delay plan to hold election in late 2016
  • Parties say constitution would have widened political divide

Thailand’s National Reform Council rejected a draft constitution in a vote in Bangkok Sunday, delaying the junta’s plan to hold an election as early as late 2016.
 
Less than half of the military-appointed council supported the draft, Chairman Thienchay Kiranandana said after a televised vote. A new committee will be set up within a month and will have 180 days to write another draft.

The proposed charter attracted criticism from both sides of Thailand’s political divide. The Pheu Thai party, which was ousted by a military coup in May 2014, said it would take power away from voters, while the Democrat party said it risked deepening the nation’s problems and spurring more violence. Sunday’s failed vote means the drafting process will restart from scratch and there will be no time frame for a return to democracy.

The draft was a revision of a version released in April, and could have stopped any single party from dominating parliament. It would also have introduced additional checks from unelected bodies on future governments and allow for an unelected prime minister to be chosen from outside parliament.

Like the 2014 coup and another in 2006, the constitution was seen as an attempt to diminish the electoral dominance of the Shinawatra family, whose allied parties have won every national election in the past 14 years.

The most contentious clause would have led to the creation of a “committee on reform and reconciliation” made up of the heads of the armed forces, police, the prime minister, heads of the senate and house and appointed experts. The committee for the first five years would have been allowed to take over executive and legislative powers if it deemed there was a political crisis. Critics say it would have created a state within a state and legalize coups in a country that has seen 12 military takeovers since 1932.

Parties Unite

The constitution drafters struggled to explain how the committee would play a supportive role, said Boonlert Kachayudhadej, a member of the National Reform Committee who voted against the charter. The largest political parties, which are usually at odds, were united in their opposition to the charter, he said.

“There is a lot of criticism that it will create a state within a state and perpetuate power,” he said on parliamentary television after the vote. “The committee seems to have a lot of power, and that may lead to more disputes.”

Before Sunday’s vote, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said political reforms would continue in line with the interim charter, which was written by a committee he appointed after seizing power as head of the army and being installed as premier.

Prayuth will appoint 21 members of a new constitutional drafting committee in the next 30 days and they will have 180 days to complete a new charter draft before a national referendum is held, said Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a spokesman for the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

“Now it’s the prime minister’s job to appoint 21 members of the new CDC and also a 200-member steering council for reform,” said Surachai Liengboonlertchai, the vice president of the National Legislative Assembly, the junta-appointed parliament. “We will move ahead in line with the interim constitution. We may take 180 days more than earlier scheduled, but we need to do it to get a constitutional draft that’s acceptable to everyone.’

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