BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's junta-appointed charter committee handed over a draft constitution to the military government at an auspicious time on Tuesday, the last step before it is put to a vote in August, something that could speed up Thailand's return to democracy.
If the constitution is adopted in the referendum, a general election is expected to take place in July 2017, more than three years after the army seized power after months of political turmoil.
The charter was handed over at 1.39 p.m. on March 29. Number nine in Thai is pronounced "gao" which sounds like the word for "advance".
Critics, including the main political parties, say the charter is flawed and that it will enshrine the military's influence and is unlikely to resolve bitter political disputes. The junta has said the draft is not designed to prolong its grip on power.
Controversial clauses include provisions for a 250-member unelected upper house Senate and the appointment of civil servants, including top military commanders, to the Senate.
"There will be a 250-member unelected Senate which meets the junta's suggestion," Meechai Ruchupan, 77, head of the Constitution Drafting Committee, told reporters at the formal handover.
The Election Commission said it expects 80 percent of eligible voters to turn out for the August 7 referendum.
The military staged a bloodless coup in May 2014 following months of street demonstrations in Bangkok - the latest in a long cycle of military removals of elected governments in Thailand.
(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Nick Macfie)