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Victory for generals as Thais vote for junta-scripted charter

Victory for generals as Thais vote for junta-scripted charter

BANGKOK: Thailand voted on Sunday to approve a junta-scripted constitution, preliminary results showed, in a boost to the army’s political aspirations and a body blow to the country’s stuttering pro-democracy movement.

The military says its new constitution will curb endemic political corruption, bring stability after years of unrest and pave the way for a general election next year.

But critics say it aims to neuter civilian politicians and introduce a tethered democracy under the stewardship of the military and its royalist allies.

Partial results released by the Election Commission late on Sunday showed 62 per cent of voters had approved the charter, with 90pc of votes counted so far.

Authorities gave a subdued turnout estimate of 55pc of Thailand’s 50.2 million registered voters, after a poll run-up that saw independent campaigning and open debate barred. Official results will be released on Wednesday.

Sunday’s referendum was the first time Thais have been able to go to the polls since former army chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

The kingdom is split after a decade of political turmoil that has damaged growth, seen democracy shunted aside and left scores dead in rival street protests.

A triumphant junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who has struggled for two years to convince many Thais of his ability to unite the country, swiftly hailed the win as step towards “a bona fide democracy” free from graft.

In a terse message released through the prime minister’s office, he also hit out at “interference by foreign elements” using “malicious intent,” without naming the parties.

The United States, European Union and United Nations all criticised the junta’s bar on debate and campaigning in the lead up to the poll.

In a hint at the country’s stark divisions, pro-democracy social media users were quick to lament a result that kicks back aspirations of a return to full civilian rule.

One Twitter handle called RIP_Thailand said: “RIP democracy, completely stepping into army dictatorship,” it read.

But Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the anti-junta Red Shirt movement, struck a defiant note.

“I want to tell Prayut that your victory is nothing to be proud of as your opponents had no chance to fight,” he told reporters, referring to the ban on campaigning before the vote.

The preliminary results illustrated the kingdom’s bitter geographic divide.

Only the impoverished, rural northeast — a region that has voted in droves for successive Shinawatra governments turfed out by the army — and the deep south — hit by a Muslim insurgency — voted against the charter.

But millions came out in favour of the military’s charter, especially in the capital and the south.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2016

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