Sep 6, 2015 12:43 AM

Thailand's army-backed council rejects charter, delays polls

The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) Thailand's military-backed legislature on Sunday rejected an unpopular draft of a new constitution, delaying a return to democracy following a coup last year.

The junta-picked drafters had hoped the proposed charter would move the Southeast Asian country past almost a decade of political conflicts, but it was met with strong opposition on almost all sides of political divide.

The legislature appointed by the junta, known as the National Reform Council, voted 135 against vs. 105 in favor with seven abstentions. The rejection, although welcomed by many, still sets back a tentative plan for Thailand's transition to electoral democracy, with the military retaining substantial powers until a new constitution is drafted.

A new 21-member drafting committee will now be appointed with a mandate to write a new charter within 180 days. It also needs approval by the legislature and will be put to a referendum meaning elections aren't likely until at least 2017, according to analysts, if the new draft is approved.

The government had previously said elections could take place late next year.

One of the most contentious provisions in the draft included a 23-member panel, with military members, that would be empowered to take over from the parliament and prime minister in times of "national crisis."

Almost all parties criticized it, and the draft risked being voted down in a referendum that had been planned for early next year.

Any new charter under the junta appeared aimed at preventing a political comeback by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in 2006 after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the revered king. Thailand has remained divided since, with Thaksin supporters and opponents struggling for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

The military abolished an earlier constitution after it deposed Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, as prime minister last year, and the government operates under a temporary charter. The junta later picked the drafters and the 247-member National Reform Council to help write a new constitution.


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