Thai Junta Picks 21-Member Panel to Write New Constitution

By Nattasuda Anusonadisai 6 October 2015

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military government appointed a new committee Monday to write a post-coup constitution after an unpopular earlier draft was rejected last month in a move that has delayed elections until at least 2017.

The new 21-member committee will start work Tuesday and has six months to write its draft charter, which needs approval from the legislature before being submitted to a national referendum, said Meechai Ruchupan, a legal expert and former Senate speaker who also led a panel that drafted another post-coup constitution in 2007.

Meechai told reporters that one of the committee’s first items of business will be to decide whether to start from scratch or work from the draft rejected last month. A junta-appointed legislature dismissed the proposed charter that sparked strong opposition from almost all sides of Thailand’s political divide.

The committee includes lawyers, academics, and civil servants, said Deputy Prime Minister Visanu Krua-ngam.

The junta-appointed legislature’s dismissal in Sept. of a draft written by a junta-selected committee marked what analysts called a clear sign of the military government’s desire to stay in power longer, despite having initially promised quick elections.

The junta, which seized power in a May 2014 coup that overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has said it will put in place a constitution that protects against corruption and abuse of power before holding new elections.

Critics say that any new charter under the junta will be aimed at preventing a political comeback by Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the revered king. Thailand has remained divided since, with Thaksin’s supporters and opponents struggling for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

Meechai led a panel that drafted the post-2006 coup’s constitution and made clear Tuesday it wasn’t his choice to head the latest Constitution Drafting Committee.

“On Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth invited me over,” he told journalists Monday, referring to the former army chief who led the coup and is now serving as interim prime minister. “I asked him how necessary is it for me to take the job? And he said, ‘It’s very necessary. It’s unavoidable.’”

One of the most contentious provisions in the draft rejected last month was the amount of power given to the military. It included provisions for a 23-member panel, including military members, that would have been 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.