Police out in force as Thais vote today

Thai workers in Bangkok carrying ballot boxes in preparation for today's vote on a draft Constitution. Several embassies, including Singapore's, have urged their nationals to take precautions during the referendum.
Thai workers in Bangkok carrying ballot boxes in preparation for today's vote on a draft Constitution. Several embassies, including Singapore's, have urged their nationals to take precautions during the referendum.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Junta keen to ensure tight security for referendum on draft charter

Some 200,000 policemen will be deployed nationwide today as Thailand votes in a constitutional referendum which critics argue will give Thais little leeway out of the two-year-old military rule.

The military government, which was installed in 2014 following a coup, has played down the possibility of any disturbance during the voting which starts at 9am Singapore time and ends at 5pm.

Preliminary results are expected to be released by about 9pm Singapore time, and confirmed results either tomorrow or on Tuesday.

Government spokesmen Sansern Kaewkamnerd told The Straits Times: "Everything is in order, so I believe everything will go smoothly. We will coordinate with security officers to ensure the situation is safe… Nothing to be too excited about."

The assurance comes after several embassies located in Bangkok, including those belonging to the United States, Britain and Singapore, urged their nationals to take precautions during the referendum.

  • Yes or no, 'polls to be held next year'

  • YES

    If the draft charter is accepted by Thai voters, the military government is expected to organise an election next year.

    Electoral rules in this Constitution make it difficult for any one party to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament, which increases the chance of a coalition government emerging. This future government will also be closely scrutinised by a Senate largely picked by the ruling junta during the transitory five-year period.

    NO

    A rejection of the draft charter could delay the election, but Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has insisted that it will still take place next year - without making clear how it would be done.

    Another drafting committee could be selected to write a new charter, but some analysts think this is unlikely as the draft being put to a referendum today is already the second version drawn up during this government's term.

    Under an interim Constitution currently operational in Thailand, the government has the power to enact any charter without resorting to a referendum.

    Tan Hui Yee

"Singaporeans should avoid political gatherings, stay away from polling stations, and follow the advice of the local authorities," the Singapore embassy in Bangkok said on its website on Friday.

Asean's second-largest economy is prone to political upheavals, the most recent in 2014, when protesters allied with Thailand's royalist elites sabotaged an election that was poised to be dominated by the incumbent Puea Thai party. The paralysed caretaker government was ousted by a coup in May that year.

The draft Constitution at stake allows the ruling junta to select almost all 250 senators during the transitory five-year period, with six seats reserved for senior security officials. While the future prime minister need not come from an election, the future elected government would be bound to abide by a "national strategy plan", failing which it risks being impeached.

Apart from voting on the draft itself, the electorate will be asked if they would agree with having the senators join the Lower House in selecting a premier.

Proponents of the draft say it was designed to combat corruption and excesses of politicians.

Former prime ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva, from the Puea Thai and Democrat parties respectively, have already declared opposition to the draft. Coup-maker and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he will vote "yes".

Thailand's election commission had earlier indicated it was expecting an 80 per cent turnout, even though the previous constitutional referendum in 2007 - held similarly after a military coup - resulted in only a 57.6 per cent turnout.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Police out in force as Thais vote today'. Print Edition | Subscribe