Thailand's government approves referendum on constitution

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2015 6:36 AM
Thailand's government approves referendum on constitution

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military government on Tuesday approved holding a referendum on the newly drafted constitution, the prime minister said, but he indicated that the decision could delay a general election.

Before a referendum can be held, an amendment to an existing interim charter will have to be made to insert a clause making a public vote possible.

The move to amend the interim charter comes after calls by several sides, including the new charter's drafters, to allow the public to have their say on whether they approve of it.

The details of the draft constitution, currently under review by the junta-appointed National Reform Council, have already been made public.

Critics say the newly drafted constitution is aimed at preventing a political comeback by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the 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.

The military abolished an earlier constitution after it took over power in a May 2014 coup, when it deposed Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra as prime minister, and the government operates under a temporary charter. The junta later picked the drafters and the 250-member National Reform Council to help write a new constitution.

The Cabinet and the National Council for Peace and Order, the junta's official name, agreed unanimously at a meeting Tuesday that the interim charter should be amended to pave the way for the referendum, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters.

"We will have to wait to see if they will pass it or not, or will amend or not amend the (interim) charter," Prayuth said.

He said that if a referendum is held, the process would take about three months and would affect the political road map laid out by the junta after the coup.

The government has said elections could take place early next year, but Prayuth declined to comment Tuesday on a date for the polls.