Thais vote in favour of military-backed draft Constitution

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha casts his ballot during a referendum for the new constitution at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand on August 7.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha casts his ballot during a referendum for the new constitution at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand on August 7. PHOTO: EPA

Voting mostly smooth; outcome clears the way for elections and return to civilian govt

Thailand has voted in favour of a military-backed draft Constitution, paving the way for fresh elections and a return to civilian governance next year.

With 94 per cent of the votes counted, unofficial results from Thailand's election commission showed that 61.4 per cent had endorsed the draft Constitution.

Turnout, however, reached only about 55 per cent.

Although official confirmation of the results is expected only later this week, the outcome is a boon for Thailand's two-year-old military government, which was ushered in after a coup in 2014. Prior to that, the government led by the Puea Thai party was paralysed by a combination of judicial rulings and protests led by groups allied with the country's royalist elites.

In a statement last night, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said: "The government will pay heed to the will of the people today and will do everything possible to address their concerns while providing a sustainable solution to our country's political problems."

The authors of the draft Constitution say it is designed to weed out corruption and political excesses, but its critics decry it as a way to cement military power without the need for future coups.

 
 

The 105-page document gives the ruling junta the power to pick almost all of the 250 senators during the transitory five-year period. Six seats in the Upper House will be reserved for senior security officials.

While the future prime minister need not come from an election, the future elected government will have to abide by a "national strategy plan", or risk being impeached.

The draft Constitution is designed to be difficult to amend once it is enacted.

It found favour with voters like Bangkok resident Mali Srichali, 45, who said: "I hope, by voting yes, the country will move forward and we will put an end to the rifts and division... I just want life to get easier for normal people, and for us not to be some pawn in political games."

But she admitted that she did not understand it "100 per cent".

Up north in Chiang Mai, 64- year-old Jitanong Bua-ngham was dismayed at the result. "It seems like we are falling 40 years backwards," she said.

Prior to the referendum, the draft charter had been publicly rejected by former Puea Thai party prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra as well as Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

But Ubon Ratchathani University political science academic Titipol Phakdeewanich said it crossed the hurdle with the help of many "red shirt" supporters of Puea Thai who were jaded with military rule and hoped to end it.

Voting went largely smoothly, in stark contrast to the chaos two years ago when protesters sabotaged an election poised to be dominated by the incumbent Puea Thai party. But a bomb went off in southern Pattani province, killing a school official helping in the referendum, reported local media.

While observers noted that the referendum appeared transparent, Dr Titipol warned that it had been undermined by suppression leading up to the actual vote.

Strict referendum rules threatened those who "distorted" the draft charter with up to 10 years' jail, while activists who tried to campaign against it were detained.

With access to the rural heartlands dominated by military-controlled state machinery, "vote no" campaigns conducted mainly through social media found relatively less traction.

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Quiet, orderly voting in Thai referendum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2016, with the headline 'Thais vote in favour of draft charter'. Print Edition | Subscribe