Thai opposition slams draft constitution week before vote

Thailand's main opposition party denounced a military-backed draft constitution on Friday saying it "totally disregards the sovereignty of the Thai people", a week before a junta-appointed council is due to vote on it. The army seized power in a bloodless coup in 2014, toppling the remnants of the Puea Thai Party-led government of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the coup, has ruled largely unchallenged since. "This charter totally disregards the sovereignty of the Thai people," the Puea Thai Party said in a statement. "The true power belongs to agencies and mechanism which are designed to maintain the junta's power without checks and balances." The National Reform Council (NRC) will vote on the draft on Sept. 6 and if it passes, it will be put to a referendum in January. It needs the support of just over half the NRC's 247 members. Of particular concern is a proposal for a 23-member National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation committee dominated by the military that allows security to intervene in a time of crisis. "Many provisions are contrary to international democratic principles and the rule of law," Puea Thai said. Many politicians say they expect the charter to pass the vote but to be rejected in the referendum, which would mean the drafting process has to begin again, delaying an election the junta has promised for next year. Some groups have held peaceful protests against the junta but opposition activists have largely gone to ground in recent weeks after authorities arrested some student activists. Prayuth has, however, had to contend with criticism leveled at his administration's handling of Thailand's flagging economy and, more recently, slow progress in an investigation into a Bangkok bomb attack that killed 20 people, more than half of them foreigners.

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