Newspaper article International New York Times

Thais Vote to Approve Army's Constitution ; Power of Political Parties Would Fall as Influence of the Military Expands

Newspaper article International New York Times

Thais Vote to Approve Army's Constitution ; Power of Political Parties Would Fall as Influence of the Military Expands

Article excerpt

The document, which was winning overwhelming approval Sunday evening, aims to reduce the power of political parties and extend the influence of the military.

In its first test at the polls, Thailand's military government won overwhelming approval on Sunday of a new constitution that aims to reduce the power of political parties and extend the influence of the military.

With 94 percent of the ballots counted, voters were approving the military's proposed constitution by a wide margin, according to preliminary returns issued by the election commission. Officials stopped counting for the day at 94 percent. A companion ballot measure that would give the military junta the authority to fill the Senate with its appointees was also easily winning voter approval.

The gap was wide enough that the results would not change, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an election official, told reporters.

Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, said his panel would begin writing laws required to implement the new constitution as soon as the results are official.

"Our country has been wounded for a long time," he said. "From now on, everyone in the country will join hands and move the country forward under the new rules that we approved."

The constitution would be the country's 20th in 84 years. Election officials put the turnout at 54.6 percent of eligible voters.

The junta seized power in 2014 and brought temporary peace to the country after years of clashes between political factions. The military leaders have pledged to hold parliamentary elections next year and return power to civilian leaders no matter what the outcome of the voting on Sunday.

Human rights groups challenged the legitimacy of the referendum because of restrictions that prevented opponents of the proposed constitution from campaigning.

The junta limited public assemblies and threatened long prison terms for people who spread information that it deemed false. More than 120 people were arrested for violating campaign rules in the weeks leading up to the referendum, according to Human Rights Watch.

Thailand has long been divided between the rural poor, mainly in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, and the urban middle class, leading to years of protests and of clashes between the two factions.

Two populist prime ministers, Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, were elected with the support of rural, northern voters. But Mr. …

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