Changes to draft charter may delay Thai elections

Polls likely to take place next year instead of the end of this year, says lawmaker

BANGKOK • Thailand's next general election, scheduled for the end of the year, is likely to be delayed, after the military-backed Parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to make amendments to the Constitution as suggested by the new king's office.

The Constitution is a key part of the junta's plans to hold an election to return Thailand to democratic rule following a 2014 coup.

Under the changes, King Maha Vajiralongkorn will no longer be required to appoint a regent when he is away from the kingdom or unable to carry out his duties, with that decision left to the monarch's discretion.

The draft Constitution was approved in a referendum last year and has been awaiting endorsement by the king, who took the throne in December after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The late king commanded immense respect from Thais during his 70-year reign.

Promulgation of the charter, which was forwarded to the palace for royal endorsement last November, was expected in early February.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha on Tuesday said the office of King Maha Vajiralongkorn had asked for several changes to clauses related to royal power in the draft Constitution, a rare intervention by a sitting Thai monarch.

Mr Prayut, who tore up the nation's previous Constitution when he seized power in the 2014 coup, blasted the media on Thursday for reporting that the king had directly asked for the alterations.

In order to make those changes, the National Legislative Assembly has to first amend the interim Constitution.

Of 231 assembly members, 228 voted in favour of the changes yesterday with three members abstaining, according to a televised session of the vote.

The assembly also made changes that allowed the king to travel overseas without having to appoint a regent to rule in his stead.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn travelled frequently while he was crown prince and has spent a significant amount of his adult life abroad, mostly in Germany where he has a home.

Member of Parliament Somjet Boonthanom said it was likely that elections would now take place next year.

"The election will take place 15 months after the Constitution is endorsed," he told Reuters.

The government must first make the requested amendments.

The king then has 90 days to approve the amended charter, Mr Somjet said.

He added: "According to the steps, the election should happen early to mid-2018."

Both the junta and the Royal Household Bureau declined to comment on why the changes were requested by the king's office.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'Changes to draft charter may delay Thai elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe