Thaksin's Red Shirts will vote against new Constitution

BANGKOK • Thailand's pro-demo- cracy "Red Shirt" movement will vote against a new junta-scripted Charter in a looming referendum, their leader has said, a move that could deepen the country's political impasse.

The political play comes a day after the military, which seized power two years ago from a civilian government, said it will hold a plebiscite on its proposed Charter in July.

The country's nearly century- long struggle with democracy has seen a dozen military takeovers since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, with Constitutions torn up and rewritten every time power changed hands.

The Red Shirts support toppled premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother - the self-exiled billionaire Thaksin. The Shinawatra family and its allies have won every Thai election since 2001, powered to victory by rural votes in the poor but populous north and north-east.

"The Red Shirts will vote to reject this Charter in the referendum," chairman Jatuporn Prompan said yesterday.

A draft of the latest document has already been pilloried as undemocratic by the Red Shirts and even some prominent supporters of the 2014 coup.

If passed, the Charter would allow for an unelected prime minister, create a fully appointed Senate and strengthen the courts - which have knocked out three prime ministers in the last decade.

The Red Shirts have played a key role in the nation's bitter street politics since Thaksin was toppled as premier by an earlier coup in 2006.

Four years later, scores of their supporters were killed in a military crackdown in central Bangkok, led by the current Prime Minister Pra- yut Chan-o-cha.

The Charter's military-appointed drafters have billed their work as an "anti-corruption" weapon that will tame shady politicians and populist governments. Critics say it is a crude instrument to stop the Shinawatras' political ascendency on behalf of a Bangkok-based, royalist elite.

In a drive to promote the document, the junta said it will dispatch soldiers and teenage cadets across the country to "educate" people on its benefits.

The military government has not clearly stated what will happen if voters reject the Charter.

But Mr Prayut has vowed to hold elections in July next year regardless of what happens at the referendum.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Thaksin's Red Shirts will vote against new Constitution'. Print Edition | Subscribe