Thai junta musters support for constitution in referendum

08 Aug 2016


Prayut Chan-o-chaThailand's military government mustered majority support for its proposed constitution with 61.4 per cent of total 94 per cent votes counted supporting the proposal and 38.6 per cent opposing it. Official statement on the results is expected by Wednesday.

A majority of voters who endorsed the military-drafted constitution in a referendum on Sunday were from the capital Bangkok, and from central Thailand, while regional returns showed deep political divide, say reports.

Most voters in large areas of the far north, northeast and south opposed it, according to preliminary results issued by the election commission.

With 94 per cent of the votes counted, 61.4 per cent of voters supported the proposal and 38.6 per cent opposed it. But, asked whether a junta-appointed Senate should have a role in choosing the prime minister, the vote was 58.1 per cent for and 41.9 per cent against.

The draft document gives the military a powerful role in future governments while reducing the influence of political parties and direct elections. Thailand's government has been overturned by military coups 13 times since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, including the coup in 2014 that put the current junta in place.

The voting on Sunday reflected Thailand's political divisions, as opposition to the proposals came from the largely rural northeast Isaan region. The area supported former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was removed from office by a court in 2014 shortly before the most recent coup.

The junta said this would be part of the national reconciliation, but said the military would remain in power despite the results of voting.

The junta had banned campaigning against the proposed constitution, and several opponents of the draft document were arrested during the campaign.

''I am not surprised about the referendum results as there was no opportunity to fully express opinions or criticize the content of the constitution draft,'' Yingluck wrote on Facebook on Monday.

''However, I am so sorry and lament for the country as it's a move backward to use a constitution that seems to be democratic but is not truly democratic,'' she added.

The junta said the draft was intended to reduce the possibility of coups, but critics said that it would diminish the role of democracy in the political system.

In comments after the vote, the junta chief and prime minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha acknowledged the result and attacked overseas critics of the restrictions on campaigning.

''To all Thai citizens, whether or not you came out to vote on the referendum today, the government has heard you,'' General Prayuth said in a statement released by his office.

Foreign governments, including the United States, had urged Thailand to engage in ''open dialogue'' about the proposed constitution.

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