Thailand’s junta announced an interim constitution that gives the military oversight of a hand-picked legislative assembly as well as amnesty for staging their May 22 coup.
The military will choose a 220-member legislature, which will pick a prime minister and 35-strong cabinet, according to a statement in the Royal Gazette. General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, leader of the National Council for Peace and Order, received the endorsed charter from King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday.
The constitution reflects the demands of a protest group led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban that staged a six-month street campaign to oust the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Suthep urged the army to seize power and appoint a reform council to wipe out the influence of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, whose parties have won the last five elections.
The constitution “will help solve the crisis and return the situation to normal, restore security, unity and solve economic problems,” according to the statement. The reform council will draft “political rules to prevent and suppress corruption and investigate abuses of power by the state before handing the mission to new representatives and the government.”
The constitution, which replaces the one annulled by Prayuth after the coup, is Thailand’s 18th since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The charter also calls for the formation of a 250-member reform committee that will need to approve a permanent constitution to be written by a 36-strong drafting committee before elections can be held.
Members of existing political parties will be ineligible to join the legislature or the reform council, according to the charter, which gives the NCPO power to appoint members to both groups.
“The NCPO will continue under this constitution,” according to the statement. “The NCPO can call a joint meeting with the cabinet to discuss any affairs and problems involving national security.”
Bhumibol, 86, granted an audience yesterday to Prayuth at the Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Bangkok, and presented the army chief with the endorsed interim charter, according to a palace statement broadcast on local television. The NCPO will give more detail about its powers under the constitution at 10 a.m. local time today.
Thailand’s military has carried out a dozen coups since the end of direct rule by kings in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch came eight years after army ousted Thaksin, dissolved his party and banned about 200 political allies from holding office for five years. Thaksin later fled abroad to escape a 2008 jail sentence from charges brought by a military-appointed panel.
“The point of the constitution is to add palace legitimacy to the coup through the king-endorsed enshrinement of new laws,” said Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiang Mai. “Almost every Thai constitution has included an amnesty for the military. In fact, amnesty for militaries has been a major rationale for most Thai constitutions. This allows and encourages coup after coup after coup.”
Prayuth has said he had no choice other than to seize power after meetings called by the army among key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution to six months of sometimes violent unrest.
Since taking power on May 22, the NCPO has silenced critics by outlawing protests and threatening the media with sanctions for content critical of the coup. Hundreds of activists, academics, opposition politicians and journalists were summoned and detained by the military in the weeks following the putsch.
Prayuth has restarted payments to rice farmers and vowed to accelerate state spending after gross domestic product fell 0.6 percent year-on-year in the first quarter as political turmoil restricted the ability of the previous government to borrow. The junta capped fuel prices and approved handouts to the tourism industry, efforts that it said would “return happiness to the Thai people.”
The baht climbed to a eight-month high yesterday and sovereign bonds rose as global funds bought Thai assets on optimism spending will revive growth. The currency strengthened to as much as 31.779 per dollar, the strongest since Nov. 22. The benchmark SET Index of stocks has gained 8.9 percent since the coup.
Prayuth said June 27 that a Cabinet and National Legislative Assembly would be in place in September and a National Reform Council would begin work a month later to discuss changes to the nation’s electoral rules. A permanent constitution will be drafted by July 2015 and an election could be held three months after its promulgation, he said.
–With assistance from Supunnabul Suwannakij and Chris Blake in Bangkok.
To contact the reporters on this story: Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok at [email protected]; Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at [email protected]