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Thailand Approves Constitution


Thailand's rulers say the country will hold elections in December to restore democratic rule following a military coup last year. The announcement came Monday after voters on Sunday approved a new constitution. However, as VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok, a huge number of 'No' votes suggests the elections will be hotly contested.

Voters approved the constitution but analysts say the more than 42 percent who voted against it did not give the backers of last year's military coup the kind of endorsement they hoped to get.

Analysts say the large number of voters who voted 'No' shows Thailand remains deeply divided between urban dwellers who oppose ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and those in his largely rural base in the north of the country.

Some analysts say it is a good thing that voters approved the constitution because not approving it would have complicated plans to restore democracy.

Some Thais interviewed after the vote say they want to see an end to the turmoil and uncertainty that the country has endured since the start of demonstrations last year that culminated with the September coup.

Narong Natiyum - a resident of central Bangkok - says he voted in favor of the constitution because he says that, in any case, having an elected government in Thailand again will be step forward.

Narong said that everything has been bad for a long time, and that the situation in the country will be better once an election is held.

The leaders installed by the military following Mr. Thaksin's ouster in September 2006 have been working to prevent the former leader from making a comeback. He was deposed while he attended the United Nations in New York in September last year, following months of protests by opponents who accused him of corruption and abuse of power. He has stayed abroad since then.

The document approved Sunday is the 18th constitution that Thailand has had since the country moved from an absolute monarchy to a democracy in 1932. It limits the power of the executive branch by - among other things - limiting the prime minister's term to no more than eight years.

It also pardons the generals for their role in the 2006 coup.

Thailand's stock market rose Monday following confirmation that the constitution was approved and the announcement that elections will be held. Officials said the poll would be in mid to late December.

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