Thai lawmakers take first step to charter change

AP News
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Posted: Feb 25, 2012 8:46 AM
Thai lawmakers take first step to charter change

A joint session of Thailand's Parliament has taken the first contentious steps toward revising the country's constitution, implemented after a 2006 military coup.

After two days of debate, lawmakers on Saturday approved by a 399-199 vote measures that call for establishment of a constitution drafting assembly.

Divisions over whether the constitution should be revised mirror the split in Thai society since the 2006 coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with opponents threatening to fight any amendments.

Constitutional change is favored by the current government led by Thaksin's sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and opposed by the opposition Democrat Party. The government says changes are needed to make the charter more democratic. The 2007 constitution was approved by a popular referendum, but was drafted by backers of the coup and pushed through with pressure from the military.

Those against change say the amendments are intended to pave the way for Thaksin to return home from overseas exile without having to serve time for a corruption conviction.

In 2008, efforts by another pro-Thaksin government to change the constitution failed in an atmosphere of intimidation by militant anti-Thaksin demonstrators who occupied the prime minister's compound for three months and Bangkok's two airports for a week.

Those demonstrations escalated the level of political confrontation, setting the stage for pro-Thaksin demonstrators to occupy a central intersection in Bangkok in early 2010 and then confront security forces, leading to violence that left about 90 people dead before the unrest was quashed.

Opponents of change say they fear a constitution favored by Thaksin's supporters might ease legal protection for the revered monarchy. Thaksin was accused of disrespect toward King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and some of the former prime minister's followers support moves to change laws that mandate long prison terms for critics of the royal institution.

Critics of the palace oppose its intervention in politics.

A parliamentary committee will draft a more detailed version of proposed changes, which are to be presented for another vote in a month.