10/02/2006, 00.00
THAILAND
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Thailand: new ad interim premier and constitution

by Weena Kowitwanij

Yesterday, the swearing-in of ex-army chief, Surayud Chulanont, took place. The king approved the text of the new provisional constitution that confers ample powers upon the junta. The new government has blocked an internet site that questioned the credibility of military commitments to democracy.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Former army chief, Surayud Chulanont, was yesterday sworn in as Thailand's new ad interim premier. The ex-soldier is the country's twenty-fourth prime minister after the controversial Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a coup d'etat on 19 September. During a brief ceremony at the Government House, the leader of those who pulled off the coup and the current head of the army, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, read a communiqué that confirmed King Bhumibol Adulyadej's approval of the appointment. Shortly beforehand, a new provisional constitution was announced.

Surayud, 62, is a respected ex-army commander who is now retired. He is one of the closest advisers of the king and he will lead the country to the next election, which should be held, according to the generals' promises, in October 2007. Dressed in a white uniform, the new premier prostrated himself in front of a giant portrait of King Bhumibol as a sign of respect. He indicated the restoration of calm in "political divisions" and "an end to violence in the south" (of Islamic rebels) as his government's main objectives. "I will commit myself to resolving these two problems within a year," he said. The formation of a new Cabinet is expected this week.

Yesterday the military junta also announced the entry into force of a new provisional Constitution, already approved by the king. The army abolished the 1997 constitution after a bloodless coup d'etat two weeks ago. The new rulers explained that the preceding Charter had too many "subterfuges" that allowed Thaksin and his cronies to abuse power and to indulge in blatant corruption. According to the new ad interim Constitution, the junta, now transformed into a "National Security Council", has the power to depose the next premier and members of his government, to approve the choice of president of the National Assembly and to have the last word about a 100-member committee that will rewrite the future Constitution. The document's 39 articles are based on respect of rights and human dignity and on the equality of all Thai people.

The men behind the 19 September coup have yet to convince the international community. After coming into power, the military tightened the screws on many civil freedoms. Yesterday, Prof. Nidhi Eoseewong, denounced an order by the junta to block the internet site of Bangkok's Midnight University, where academics discussed the real commitment of the generals to democratic reforms.

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