By Anuchit Nguyen and Suttinee Yuvejwattana
July 24, 2014
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Bangkok: Thailand’s junta has announced an interim constitution that gives itself an amnesty for staging the May 22 coup that overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. The constitution, Thailand’s 18th since 1932, has been approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The document also gives the military power to hand-pick a 220-member legislature, which will appoint a prime minister and 35-strong cabinet, according to a statement in the Royal Gazette.
The constitution reflects the demands of a protest group led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban that staged a six-month street campaign led by “yellow shirts” to oust the administration of Ms Yingluck, backed by “red shirt” demonstrators. Mr Suthep said he wanted to “reclaim sovereign power” and appoint a reform council to wipe out the influence of Ms Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, whose parties have won the past 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 from the National Council for Peace and Order, led by General Prayuth Chan-Ocha.
The junta will now 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 48-article constitution, which replaces the one annulled by General 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.
“The NCPO will be in power until a new constitution is implemented,” junta adviser Wissanu Krea-ngam said at a media briefing in Bangkok, adding that General Prayuth is eligible to be named prime minister.
Article 44 of the charter gives General Prayuth the power to take action against any threats to peace and order, national security or the monarchy, and the charter’s final article protects the coup-makers from prosecution.
“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.”
People who have held positions with political parties in the past three years will be ineligible to join the legislature or the reform council, according to the charter, which gives the junta power to appoint members to both groups.
King Bhumibol, 86, was enthroned in 1946. Thailand’s constitution says the king “shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated”. His picture is hung in most Thai homes and a royal anthem praising him is played before movies in cinemas across the country.
Thailand’s military has carried out a dozen coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, with three governments overthrown since 2006 by the army or judicial action. The latest putsch came eight years after the 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.