Thailand releases draft of new constitution to public

Draft will put to referendum which will mark first time Thais return to ballot box since junta toppled elected government in May 2014

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission Meechai Ruchupan holds the draft of new constitution during a press conference at the Parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, March 29, 2016.

Thailand's proposed new constitution was unveiled to the public on Tuesday, amid criticism that the charter is undemocratic and gives too much power to the military that staged a coup two years ago.

The draft will be put to a referendum in August, followed by elections that junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised for 2017.

The referendum will mark the first time Thais return to the ballot box since Prayuth led a May 2014 coup that toppled an elected government and suspended democracy in the Southeast Asian country.

Prayuth has justified the military takeover as necessary to restore order after years of political upheaval and to rid Thailand of corruption and abuse of power. He has insisted that the new constitution will help him achieve those goals.

Politicians from both sides of Thailand's political divide have opposed the proposed constitution, which includes clauses for a fully appointed Senate, with seats reserved for senior military officers.

In the run-up to its release, the military government banned criticism of the charter, and over the weekend detained a politician for a Facebook posting saying Prayuth should resign if the constitution is rejected at the polls.

Prayuth has vowed to hold elections in mid-2017, but has not specified what will happen if the constitution is rejected.

It is widely believed that the army is concerned about stability when the throne passes from ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been the constitutional monarch since 1946. The military's critics say the army wants to keep its grip on power to ensure a smooth succession.

Prayuth has restricted free speech in Thailand since the coup and barred public protests amid other crackdowns on civil liberties. The junta has generally equated criticism of its actions with incitement to unrest and instability.

TRTWorld, AP