Thailand's junta-appointed council rejects draft constitution

National Reform Council (NRC) President Thienchay Kiranandana presides over the vote for the draft of the new constitution at Parliament in Bangkok on Sept 6, 2015.
National Reform Council (NRC) President Thienchay Kiranandana presides over the vote for the draft of the new constitution at Parliament in Bangkok on Sept 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
A draft of a new Thai constitution is pictured during a vote by members of the country's National Reform Council (NRC) at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept 6, 2015.
A draft of a new Thai constitution is pictured during a vote by members of the country's National Reform Council (NRC) at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept 6, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Thailand's junta-appointed National Reform Council has rejected the regime's own draft constitution, by a vote of 135 to 105.

The vote took place on Sunday morning, and in effect resets the process of drafting a new constitution - buying the military itself more time in power.

Significantly, many former military members of the Council voted against the draft.

If the constitution had been passed, it would have been put to a public referendum in January, followed by a general election.

Now, however, a new constitution drafting committee will be set up within 30 days, and the process begun anew. The new draft would have to be completed in 180 days.

That takes the process deeper into 2016.

Sam Zarifi, Bangkok-based regional director for Asia and the Pacific of the International Commission of Jurists, tweeted seconds after the voting was finished : "Junta-appointed council rejects constitution that would give military ultimate power, thus keeping military's ultimate power.''

Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher for the New York based Human Rights Watch, tweeted that even with the draft rejected, Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha would "continue to rule.. (with) no accountability.''

The draft constitution, which would have been Thailand's 20th since 1932, had been touted by its junta-appointed drafters as empowering the people.

But it was severely criticised by almost all political sides for constraining democracy and institutionalising the military's power in Thailand's political landscape.

In the end, analysts say, it is in the junta's own interest to stay in power longer. Thailand's political divide shows little sign of healing, and a transition looms in the all-important monarchy as reigning King Bhumibol Adlyadej, 87, grows increasingly frail.

The junta seized power in May last year, and since then has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent, tracked down and prosecuted alleged critics of the monarchy, and muzzled political parties.  

It is also prosecuting former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over financial losses incurred in a profligate, populist rice purchasing scheme that helped sweep her to power in a general election in 2011.