Thailand passes new Constitution via referendum

In Thailand's rural heartland, supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra say they will focus on winning an election next year, even though they would have to govern on military terms if they win.

Leaders of the latest coup say frequent political conflicts had made the country ungovernable and that military rule was necessary for stability.

Official results will be announced later Sunday.

Thai voters have approved a new draft constitution, the country's election commission said Sunday evening.

"We call on all stakeholders to also accept the result of the referendum", Abhisit said. Why half the eligible voters opted to abstain is an open question.

Im Jeepetch, 18, a first-time voter, admitted she didn't know much about the draft constitution but voted "yes" because she feels that Bangkok has become more orderly and peaceful since the military came to power.

Many also said they did not fully understand the second question posed on the ballot, which asks whether voters agreed with allowing senators to join the elected House of Representatives in selecting a prime minister. I always said that we will have an election in 2017.

If the constitution does not pass, what will happen is uncertain, but the military government will remain in control.

Among the sweeping changes introduced, the document will allow for the prime minister to be appointed by the National Assembly, rather than elected, and reserves seats in the Senate for the military.

The military have arrested and charged those opposing the constitution in the run up to the vote, in a process that may tarnish the legitimacy of the result.

"Relatively low turnout and the absurd measures that Thailand's dictatorship took to prevent meaningful discussion of the draft constitution certainly contributed to the dictatorship's surprisingly easy victory".

The military has successfully seized power 12 times since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and this constitution will be the kingdom's 20th. So-called independent bodies, stacked with conservative appointees, would hold "disproportionately broad and unchecked powers" over elected politicians, said the global human rights consortium FIDH and the Union for Civil Liberty in Thailand.

The anti-junta opposition has laid low since Prayuth toppled Yingluck's government in a 2014 coup, confident in its ability to win back power at the ballot box and keen to avoid a confrontation with a junta that has quashed any sign of dissent.

"The Thai baht has firmed due to the new constitution drafted by the junta, which paves the way for elections", said Wu Mingze, a foreign-exchange trader in Singapore at INTL FCStone, a Nasdaq-listed global payments-service provider. Junta set up hand-picked committees to draft a charter that would enshrine its declared goal of reforming politics by eliminating corruption.

"I'm happy that I could still exercise my rights as a (Thai) person", Yingluck told reporters, urging others to go and vote. "They said it is for the sake of the country, but how can only a (small) group of people say this is for the whole country?"

Unlike Thailand's previous constitutions, which were frequently thrown out after a few years by military takeovers, the new version effectively gives legal authorization for the military to remove any elected government without resorting to a coup.

But others believe the draft constitution has a different aim: to weaken allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the central figure who has roiled Thai politics.

The tension has been compounded by the frail health of 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as elites jostle ahead of any transition. Thaksin is in self-exile from a 2008 criminal corruption conviction; Yingluck is now in the dock on criminal negligence charges for her populist rice subsidy scheme. But it was also clearly created to permanently quash the electoral dominance of divisive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Most of those shuffling forward were as silent as the ochre-robed monks who idled nearby, mindful that a no vote would simply prolong the junta's stint in power, while voting yes would make the military a permanent political power broker in the Southeast Asian nation.

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