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Conflict in Thailand Over New Constitution

Thailand's legislature is known as the National Reform Council.

Thailand's legislature is known as the National Reform Council.

In Thailand, a commission writing a new constitution is set to consider proposals by the military government.

The proposals include a non-elected senate and an appointed prime minister over a five-year period until the new constitution takes effect.

The proposals have led to sharp criticism from major political parties.

The commission’s draft version of the constitution calls for a 500-member House of Representatives. Those seats would be filled through elections in Thailand. A 200-member senate would be chosen by interest groups and other organizations.

However, the government’s proposal calls for a 250-member appointed Senate. It would include seats for the permanent secretary of defense, supreme commander, and commanders of the army, navy and air force and the chief of police.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said the military’s proposal was aimed at preventing a military overthrow of the government.

But Thailand observers and politicians from major parties say the proposal will weaken parties and harm democracy.

Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. She said such proposals will take power away from the elected government. She spoke at a conference on constitutional reform.

“What Thailand will have is elections without democracy,” she said. “When we create institutions that violate basic constitutional principles, like allowing a non-elected prime minister, we lay the groundwork for tyrannical decisions. That is a very sensitive point for me.”

The military has said the proposals are needed to avoid political unrest. Thailand has had years of conflict between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was ousted from power in 2006 and now lives in self-declared exile to avoid a jail sentence.

Ake Tangsupvattana is dean of political science at Chulalongkorn University. He said the commission’s proposals may provide a way for moving Thailand beyond past political conflicts.

Ake says Thailand’s Cabinet and the commission will attempt to negotiate a compromise before March 29. That is when the constitution is to be sent to the Cabinet.

Thailand’s attempt to write a new constitution comes at a time when the 88-year-old king, Bhumipol Adulyadej, is in poor health. He has ruled for more than 60 years and is the world’s longest serving monarch. His son and likely replacement has yet to reach the level of respect given to his father.

Thailand’s current draft constitution, if approved, would be the 20th charter adopted since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

A vote on the new charter is set for August 7.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Ron Corben reported on this story for Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

charter – n. a document that describes basic laws and principles of a group

tyrannical adj. using power over people that is unfair or cruel

adopt v. to accept or approve something

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