Thai referendum on Charter to be held on Aug 7

BANGKOK • Thailand's military government set Aug 7 as the date for a referendum on a controversial Constitution it has drafted since seizing power in a coup two years ago.

The referendum will be the country's first return to the ballot box since junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha toppled an elected government and suspended democracy in May 2014.

"The Cabinet has approved the referendum Bill proposed by the election committee," junta spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd told reporters yesterday after announcing the Aug 7 date.

Constitution rewrites have done little to end the kingdom's seemingly endless cycle of coups and political turbulence - this is the 20th Charter since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932.

General Prayut insists this version will help him deliver on his vow to rid the country of corruption and bring stability.

But civilian politicians on both sides of Thailand's divide have already shot down drafts of the Charter as undemocratic, a rare show of unity.

In the past week, two high-profile rival former premiers, Thaksin Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva, have slammed the Constitution, saying it is unlikely to resolve bitter political disputes.

The past decade since Thaksin was toppled by a coup has been marked by mass street protests and changes of government, as rural-based supporters of Thaksin struggle to wrest power from a Bangkok-centric network of business and military elite.

The Constitutions have tended to flip-flop between authoritarian documents that empower the wealthy establishment and non-elected bodies, and more progressive democratic Charters.

The junta's latest version has yet to be finalised but appears to be in the former category, with proposals including an appointed senate and a powerful constitutional court that critics say would hobble civilian politicians.

Gen Prayut had promised to hold elections in mid-2017, though he has not specified what will happen if the Constitution is rejected.

The referendum date came as he congratulated neighbouring Myanmar on the historic election of its first civilian leader in more than half a century.

"Thai-Myanmar relations are always good, regardless of a civilian or military government," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2016, with the headline 'Thai referendum on Charter to be held on Aug 7'. Print Edition | Subscribe