Thai King signs charter, paves way for elections

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (right) presiding over the signing ceremony of the new constitution with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 6, 2017.
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (right) presiding over the signing ceremony of the new constitution with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Bangkok, Thailand, on April 6, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

Move will help bring back investor confidence after years of army rule: Analysts

King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed yesterday Thailand's new Constitution that is expected to further strengthen the military's hold on power and pave the way for elections to be held late next year.

Analysts said the promulgation would help bring investor confidence back to the country, which has been under military rule for three years, but that the political environment remains fragile until a clear date for an election is set.

"Many people are looking to get over this military period but there needs to be a clear policy direction" as it remains unclear how long more the military junta will remain in office, said Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

There are questions by some observers as to whether the Constitution is meant to prolong the military's hold on power - with provisions that orders made by the junta will continue to be in force and that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha still has absolute power to prevent any act that "undermines public peace".

The entire 250-seat Senate will be appointed by the military under the new charter, a guarantee of the military's controlling stake in any future government. The Senate will have a say on the appointment of a prime minister.

  • Key facts about the new charter

    •It is an essential step towards holding an election, to restore democracy in a nation ruled by the military since a 2014 coup.

    •With the Constitution endorsed, Thailand's next general election is expected to be held late next year.

    ••The charter paves the way for a junta-appointed Upper House, and a proportional voting system likely to reduce the influence of major parties.

    •The Constitutional Court will be strengthened to make it easier to impeach a civilian leader.

    •The Thai King had ordered the junta to rewrite parts of the charter relating to his role, such as how the government should proceed in a political crisis, the procedure for appointing a regent and whether royal edicts should be countersigned by a government minister.

    •Unlike the previous draft, this charter does not prescribe a specific process for ending political deadlock.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"The new Constitution reflects the sharing of power among the elites. More on the military, less on civil society and much less on politicians," said Mr Kan Yuenyong, executive director of think-tank Siam Intelligence Unit. He added that it is the junta's way to "protect themselves after getting out of power".

The Constitution is the 20th for Asean's second biggest economy since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

The document was signed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn in a televised ceremony in Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and is one of the first major acts of the monarch since the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, last October.

"This Constitution aims to fully rid the country of corruption, abuses of power and prevent corrupt politicians from taking office," said the charter's preamble that was read by an official after the signing.

The government has said that despite the charter's promulgation, the ban on political activities remains in force until order is deemed to be "fully restored".

The government also said it would take about 18 months to prepare for the polls, including at least eight months to pass four election-related laws.

Mr Prayut said in a pre-recorded TV address yesterday that "the government cannot set the exact date of the elections because it is not yet possible to determine the beginning dates of each successive event", referring to the steps towards holding polls.

On Wednesday evening, just hours before the signing ceremony, a small pipe bomb exploded inside a dustbin close to the Democracy Monument, the site of pro-democracy protests over the decades. Two street cleaners were taken to hospital but there were no other reported injuries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Thai King endorses Constitution, paves way for elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe