Thai king signs new pro-military constitution

This is the 20th charter since the end of Thailand’s absolute monarchy in 1932. It boosts the monarch’s powers without popular vetting. For opponents, the new Charter neuters democracy. Elections are set for next year. The outgoing military government will pick Senate members who will elect the prime minister. For the military, the new dispensation will end deep political divisions. Violence breaks out in the south: Malay rebels carry out 23 attacks.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s king yesterday signed into law a new pro-military constitution, an essential step towards the new elections promised by the ruling junta to restore democracy after the 2014 coup.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed the new charter, the 12th in more than 80 years, in Bangkok in a televised ceremony held yesterday afternoon. He ascended to the throne last October after the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for more than seven decades.

In August 2016, Thai voters approved a draft charter in a referendum in which opponents were barred from formally campaigning, and the new king had not yet expressed a desire to change it.

In January in fact, the king asked for some changes to sections concerning the powers of the monarch, which were strengthened. The new constitution, the 20th since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, was published in yesterday’s Royal Thai Government Gazette.

Critics argue that it will once again give the military a powerful voice in Thai politics for years, if not decades. They note that the new document will give the Thai people a “neutered” democracy.

One of the most controversial provisions of the new Constitution gives the outgoing military government the right to appoint members to the Senate, which will have a say in choosing the prime minister.

In addition to an appointed upper house, the new constitution boosts the powers of the Constitutional Court and makes it easier to impeach civilian leaders elected by the people.

For the military, the new charter will end the kingdom’s deep political divisions and hold at bay corrupt lawmakers. It also provides for an election before the end of 2018.

The junta had promised elections in 2015 after seizing power in 2014 from the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the populist leader deposed in 2006.

The army claimed that the coup would end political turmoil. However, the main political divisions remain pitting the Bangkok elite and pro-royalist military against Shinawatra’s supporters, who can be found in particular among the poor, and in the country’s rural north and north-east.

The new dispensation also includes a "20-year" plan that will bind any future government.

A few hours after the signing ceremony, violence broke out overnight in the south of the country, a Muslim-majority region torn apart by poverty and an armed insurrection.

Since midnight the Thai military has reported more than 20 arson and bomb attacks, causing widespread blackouts but no casualties.

Analysts doubt any link between the ceremony and the attacks, noting that the violent flare-up is likely a reaction to the killing of two suspected rebels by security forces last month.

"There have been 23 simultaneous incidents in three southern provinces and four districts of Songkhla," said Colonel Pramote Prom-in, an army spokesman for the south.

The region has been violence for more than a decade. Malay rebels have been at war with regular Thai troops in order to obtain greater autonomy. So far, the conflict has caused the death of about 6,800 people.

This border region is one of the few areas to have rejected the military-backed constitution in last year’s referendum.