No big changes planned for junta-ruled Thailand's draft Constitution

BANGKOK (Reuters) - No major changes are planned to Thailand's draft Constitution, a spokesman for the committee pulling it together said on Friday, despite criticism from politicians that it is undemocratic as the one-year anniversary of a military coup approaches.

Thailand's National Reform Council will finish its week-long debate on Sunday before sending the draft to the Cabinet and the junta for feedback. The charter, Thailand's 20th since 1932, was written by a 36-member Constitution Drafting Committee appointed by the junta, which seized power on May 22 following months of anti-government street protests.

It includes a provision that would allow for an unelected prime minister, providing he or she has two-thirds house support, and one that specifies that 123 of 200 senators would be appointed, the rest elected. "For the important, key points in the constitution, including the electoral system and the origin of senators, there will be no changes," General Lertrat Rattanvanich, spokesman for the drafting committee, told reporters. "In terms of smaller details, there could be amendments."

The drafters say they hope it will guard against "parliamentary dictatorship" but critics say it will not heal Thailand's deep political divisions and could usher in a period of weak and short-lived coalition governments. "There are a lot of issues in the new constitution that might not be suitable for Thai politics, including the weakening of political parties," Mr Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, spokesman for the conservative Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest political party, told Reuters this week.

Thailand has been divided for a decade between supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment, which reviled Thaksin's popularity.

The military took power after months of street protests aimed at ousting Thaksin's sister, then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The constitution must be endorsed by Thailand's king by September if a general election promised for early 2016 is to take place.

Gen Lertrat said the drafting panel would send the text to all political parties next week to get their views and they will have until May 25 to comment.

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