News / Asia

    Thai Junta Unveils Temporary Constitution

    FILE - Thailand's Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, arrives at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, Thailand.
    FILE - Thailand's Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, arrives at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, Thailand.

    Thailand’s military junta has unveiled an interim constitution that allows the army to retain sweeping powers. And the army chief, who currently has total executive and legislative oversight, could become the kingdom’s next prime minister.

    Thailand’s temporary charter is to legitimize the May 22 coup and will effectively grant the junta supreme power over the country’s political and judicial arenas.

    The military, which took power in a coup two months ago, is to handpick a 220-member legislature (replacing the House of Representatives and the Senate) that will later select a prime minister and Cabinet. Anyone who has held a political position in a current party will be excluded from the new group of lawmakers.

    The members of the reconstituted legislative body must be at least 40 years of age and must not have been previously removed from a government post for “corruption, fraud or misconduct.”
     
    Royal endorsement

    An economic advisor to the military government, former commerce minister Narongchai Akransanee, says this will likely lead to elections in October of next year.

    “The time line is like this now we have the interim constitution: names of members of the NLA, the national legislative assembly, would be announced most likely within two weeks and the government would be formed after that… And as General Prayuth said the government with military participation would be in place definitely in September,” said Narongchai Akransanee.

    On Tuesday, Thailand’s revered 86-year-old King formally endorsed the interim charter in a ceremony with General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army’s chief. The ceremony, which took place in the coastal city Hua Hin, provides additional royal legitimacy to the coup by endorsing the new laws drawn up by the military.

    In the coming months, the junta’s interim legislature is expected to choose a committee that will draw up a new constitution, which will then be submitted to the new reform committee for approval.
     
    In the meantime, there is strong speculation General Prayuth will be selected as prime minister.

    A deputy junta leader and a legal advisor to the military government are not ruling that out, saying the choice will be up to the provisional parliament.

    The junta’s reform plan largely meets the demands of the protesters in Bangkok who occupied parts of the capital for months in a bid to push then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power. Protest leaders had called for an appointed committee to rule the country and implement far-reaching political reforms, before holding new elections.

    Muted criticism

    Criticism of the new, interim constitution in Thailand is understandably muted, since the military has authority to summon anyone making comments deemed to be political or that could cause unrest.

    The domestic media is operating under the harshest censorship seen here in decades.

    A member of Thai Students for Democracy, speaking to VOA by Skype, says his underground group will not surrender to the junta’s anti-democratic decrees.

    Identifying himself as “Rick Lee,” the university student in Bangkok characterizes the new charter as being imposed by a “system of tyrants.”

    “The latest military junta is still maintaining the value of constitutional and freedom. But right now our value of constitution's check-and-balances, freedoms and liberty has gone. This is so ridiculous for them to do it like this because it means we're back to the situation like in Burma with the military rule. This is a huge step back for democratic development in this country,” he said.

    Others expressing opposition - mostly through anonymous comments posted Wednesday on social media - lamented what they called a blow for democracy. The charter is also seen as a move by the junta to ensure political power will securely be in the hands of the conservative and royalist elite.

    The junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order, contends the interim charter “will help solve the crisis and return the situation to normal, restore security, unity and solve economic problems.”

    And the reform council will draft “political rules to prevent and suppress corruption and investigate abuses of power by the state before handing the mission to new representatives and the government.”

    Since the end of absolute monarchial rule in 1932 Thailand has experienced frequent overthrows of civilian governments by the military. The generals or judicial action have deposed three governments since 2006.
     
    Thaksin Shinawatra influence

    The last five national elections in Thailand have been won by parties supported by billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra. He was ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup.

    Junta officials say they want to ensure Thai politics are permanently freed from the influence of Thaksin. He was convicted in 2008 by a military-appointed panel of corruption and faces imprisonment should he return to Thailand from self-imposed exile.

    His younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was forced out as prime minister this year following six months of rallies in Bangkok.

    After Yingluck’s removal General Prayuth declared martial law and then seized all power himself.

    Since the bloodless putsch hundreds of people have been summoned for questioning and temporary detention. Most of those targeted are considered allies of the Shinawatra clan or critics of the military or Thailand’s harsh lese majeste laws.

    General Prayuth has justified carrying out the coup as a necessary move amid a dangerous extended period of political stalemate and that the military will now improve Thailand’s democratic model and “return happiness to the people.”

     


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Lindsaybkk from: Bangkok
    August 05, 2014 12:45 AM
    Elections do not mean Democracy as we know. The Junta saved a country in decline and locals knew a Coup was coming. The Propaganda on all sides was not getting the country anywhere.
    Civil War was averted, evidence of Bombs, Guns, M79, Weapons stockpiling by Red Shirt & PT Party was collected daily by Military. Many Militants arrested, all linked to Supporters Red Shirt/Thaksin Faction.
    Even weapons collected from PT members Vehicle.
    Now Junta has done more in this country fixing issues in first month than previous 10yrs! If we can get Politicians who wish to work for the people and not themselves then we can go back to Elections.
    Bangkokians would prefer Junta to Thaksin corruption & Dictatorship anyday!
    Thaksins wish to be President is over. Thailand does not need another Marcos Elite Leader.
    But for now Policies, Constitution, Infrustructure, agenda planning in progress which will get Thailand back on track. Peace has returned.
    Long Live The King

    by: Tom from: TX
    July 23, 2014 8:33 AM
    Using 'constitution' 'junta' and 'royalty' in the same breath brings forth rolled eyes, a large har-har, or bobbing head. The Thighs need to move into the 21st century if they can and stop chopping heads.
    In Response

    by: glen from: thailand
    July 24, 2014 8:58 AM
    Hey Tom, It is Ties not thighs, but what we are witnessing is the removal of one corrupt leadership by a new corrupt leadership which engages in nepotism ( the 2 most powerful people in Thailand post coup are brothers) and exploits /tramples on the rights of the rural poor, ie no universal suffrage is planned.Voting will be as in Hong Kong where one can only vote for a hand picked candidate
    In Response

    by: Allen from: WA
    July 23, 2014 9:38 PM
    First off, it is Thai, not Thigh. Second, they don't chop off peoples heads. If you would have bothered to look at the conditions that lead up to the coup, you would have known that there was a large degree of corruption that contributed to the coup.

    Since taking office, the military has been ridding the government of corrupt officials, targeted organized criminal groups, drug traffickers and human traffickers, and cracking down on individuals who are scamming tourists and discrediting the Thai people. But then, ignorance is bliss.

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