BANGKOK: A panel appointed by Thailand’s military junta on Tuesday unveiled a draft Constitution touted as a solution to the kingdom’s decade-long political crisis, but derided by critics as undemocratic and divisive.
Thailand has been controlled by the army since a 2014 coup overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose billionaire family has swept the last three elections but are hated by the Bangkok elite.
If the charter is ratified, it will perpetuate the military’s influence.
A junta-appointed Senate would check the powers of lawmakers for a five-year transitional period following elections.
It also enshrines a proportional voting system, a move that would likely reduce the majority of any government once Thais regain the right to vote.
The drafters insist their new Constitution — the kingdom’s 20th in less than a century — will end the cycle of elections, street protests and coups.
But critics say it is aimed squarely at breaking the Shinawatras’ electoral stranglehold on the country.
“We don’t see it as intentionally trying to dilute one party or to create a coalition government,” Consitutional Drafting Commitee spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni told reporters.
“We see it as a return to a period where you don’t have people confronting each other on the streets. That is what the majority of Thais want.”
The document is set to go to the public in a referendum on August 7.
The junta, however, has warned that it will not tolerate criticism of the charter in the run-up to the vote, making debate all but impossible.
Two opposition politicians were detained by the military this week for voicing criticism of the document and the junta.
‘Expands military power’
Paul Chambers a Thailand-based academic, said the document would in effect prolong army rule and establish a “frail democracy” easily controlled by a junta-stacked Senate.
“It is a charter which expands military and judicial power at the expense of democracy,” he noted.
“Because of the transition period outlined in the new charter, military rule in Thailand could well extend to eight years: 2014-2017 of direct military rule; 2017-2022 of military veto power” through the Senate, Chambers said.
In the run-up to its unveiling, the charter has been criticized by both sides of the political divide, even those who cheered the toppling of Yingluck’s government.
A senior figure within the Shinawatras’ Pheu Thai party told Agence France-Presse recently that it was “highly likely” they would tell supporters to vote against the charter in the referendum.
Pheu Thai’s bitter rival the Democrat Party is yet to say what it will advise voters.
But earlier this month its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, publicly hit out at the document as lacking in “democratic standards.”
Thailand is no stranger to constitutional rewrites, which have done little to end the kingdom’s turbulent politics.
The public often shrugs off the passage of a document seen as heavily biased and liable to change with the political winds.
The latest chapter in the country’s long struggle with democracy began in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a coup.
That power grab sparked years of rival street protests and political chicanery by the Bangkok establishment.
Thaksin, who lives in self-exile to avoid a graft conviction he says is politically motivated, has pilloried the junta for bungling the economy and ruining the political landscape.
The army claims legitimacy from the revered but ailing king.
Analysts attribute the current political crisis to the monarch’s ill-health and a bitter tussle for influence among competing elites once his reign ends.