Thailand votes in referendum on new junta Constitution

Thailand on Sunday voted in a referendum on a new junta-backed Constitution that could pave the way for polls next year even as critics feared it would strengthen army’s grip on power.
About 50 million voters will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question–do you accept the draft constitution? They are also being asked a supplementary question, whether or not the appointed senate should be allowed to join the lower house in selecting a Prime Minister.
If the majority of voters say ‘yes’, the draft becomes the Constitution, enhancing the military government’s legitimacy in the run-up to an election which Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, has promised will happen next year.
Results of the referendum will soon be announced after voting closes. Prime Minister Prayut and other key government figures openly announced a couple of days back that they would vote “Yes” in Sunday’s referendum. The military junta which took power after a coup in 2014 called for the Constitution to be rewritten to ensure “clean politics” in the country. The referendum is likely to be a judgement day in Thai politics. Not only will the fate of the new draft Constitution be determined, but the outcome could also be significant for entities such as the military-created National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and politicians from different parties. If the Constitution does not pass, what will happen is uncertain, but the military government will remain in control. The way this referendum has been run by the military authorities has been widely condemned by human rights groups because of the ban on campaigning,
which has seen dozens of people detained and charged.
As a result, public knowledge of the draft Constitution is limited. If it is approved, the military government has promised that a general election could be held by late next year, restoring democratic government. But critics have argued that the draft will perpetuate army control with the armed forces and an appointed senate retaining decisive influence over future elected governments.
Meanwhile, a motorcycle bomb went off in front of a shop in Yingo district in the troubled southern Thailand bordering Malaysia early Sunday morning. There were no injuries reported.
However, the explosion caused by the 15 kg bomb shattered glass windows of some houses nearby. Whether the blast was connected to the voting in referendum was not known.
The motorcycle bomb comes after the blasts that destroyed 19 roadside power posts in nine districts of Narathiwat last night. Police were investigating the incidents.
“After the vote, we could see better stability. However, at the end of the day everything will depend largely on how
the NCPO acts,” Thammasat University political scientist Virot Ali said.
“The NCPO should reveal when exactly in 2017 the election will take place and make sure all of the process is transparent and inclusive. Otherwise, pressure from outside will not go away,” Virot said.
Chalidaporn Songsamphan, another political scientist at Thammasat, said the NCPO’s legitimacy should be boosted if the draft is voted in. However, she warned that the vote could be very confusing and each ballot could contain different meanings.

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