April 11, 2016 / 11:29 AM / 3 years ago

Thai opposition leader says military-drafted charter should be rejected

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai opposition leader warned the ruling junta on Monday that his followers would reject in an August vote a military-drafted constitution, which critics say would enshrine the generals’ domination of politics.

Pro-government "red shirt" protest leader Jatuporn Prompan gestures during a new conference at his encampment in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok, in this May 22, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom/Files

The military seized power in May 2014, overthrowing an elected government, saying it needed to steer the country out of a decade of fractious and at times violent politics.

It has promised to hold a general election in 2017, but under a constitution that critics say will hobble democracy and preserve the power of the military-dominated establishment at the expense of politicians.

Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the “red shirt” movement loyal to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said the military-backed constitution would damage the country and he would urge his activists to vote ‘no’ in the referendum.

“The red shirts will show their strength again on August 7,” Jatuporn told Reuters in an interview.

“If the constitution passes it will be devastating for both politics and the economy,” he said. “We need to overthrow this constitution.”

The junta discarded the previous constitution and has defended the new draft saying it wants to promote stability and good government, not prolong its power.

Critics say they will not accept the constitution if the military retains control behind the scenes, pointing to clauses in the draft such as provision for an unelected upper house Senate.

“If the military government wants to stay in power longer it should just say so,” said Jatuporn. “But it should not hand back only a bit of power.”

The prime minister of the military government, Prayuth Chan-ocha, apparently mindful of investor concern about prolonged political deadlock if the charter is rejected, has said an election will be held in 2017 no matter what.

The junta has kept a firm lid on freedom of speech since the coup and has barred gatherings of a political nature and leaders of the “red shirt” movement have been largely keeping quiet.

Thaksin’s old foe, the pro-establishment Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political party, is also urging people to oppose the draft charter too, saying it would stifle democracy.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel

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