Thai politicians 'unite' against junta

Political parties slam the military's draft Constitution before voting takes place

BANGKOK • Thailand's two biggest political parties, who have been at odds during more than a decade of unrest, agree on something: The military junta's draft Constitution must be defeated.

Puea Thai, ousted by the army in a May coup last year, has warned that the draft takes power away from the people, while the Democrat Party says it risks deepening the nation's problems and could spur more violence. Both have called on the junta's National Reform Council to reject the charter, which would be Thailand's 20th since 1932, in a vote tomorrow.

The criticism - particularly of a section that would let a committee that includes the heads of the armed forces take over administration of the country in a crisis - is adding to the junta's woes. Already under pressure to speed up a return to elections, it has struggled to shore up an economy constrained by rising household debt and shrinking exports.

The government's claim that it has returned security to a nation weary from years of political violence was tested by an Aug 17 bomb that tore through central Bangkok, killing 20 people.

"It is tragic that the junta is not in a very strong position," said Dr Puangthong Pawakapan, an associate professor of international relations at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

"But the opposition is too weak, fragmented and polarised to do anything about it."

Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha, the coup leader turned prime minister, switched his Cabinet team last month in response to criticism that the junta was neglecting the economy, which is forecast to have among the slowest expansions in South-east Asia this year.

Data released on Thursday showed consumer confidence slumped to a 15-month low last month amid concern the bombing will deter tourists.

The junta has said elections could be held as early as late next year if the reform council approves the draft and voters do the same in a January referendum. The draft is a revision of a version released in April.

Like the coup last year and another in 2006, it is 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 charter could stop any single party from dominating parliament and introduce checks from unelected bodies on future governments. It would allow for an unelected prime minister to be chosen from outside parliament.

Most contentious, it would set up a "committee on reform and reconciliation" totalling no more than 22 people 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 be allowed to take over executive and legislative powers if it deemed there was a political crisis. Critics say it would create a state within a state and legalise coups in a country that has seen 12 military takeovers since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932.

The chairman of the drafting committee, Mr Borwornsak Uwanno, has urged people to not look at any one clause too closely.

"It's like when we look at Miss Universe, we look at the overall body to see the beauty. If we cut out and only look at her intestine, heart... how can it be beautiful?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Thai politicians 'unite' against junta'. Print Edition | Subscribe