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Politics

Election-revamping draft takes heat as undemocratic

BANGKOK -- The caretaker government's latest effort to devise a new constitution for a deeply divided Thailand was met with a backlash, with the draft released Friday criticized as antidemocratic by forces loyal to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

     The new draft allows for someone outside parliament to become prime minister and replaces direct elections for the upper house with an appointment system. It also indicates that the general election set for around July 2017 could be delayed by up to four months.

     Ever since an earlier draft was rejected by the now-defunct National Reform Council, whose members were appointed by the military government, the constitution drafting committee has been working on a fresh proposal.

     With many anti-Thaksin members believed to be sitting on the committee, the new version appears to reflect skepticism against politicians and parties that divided the country.

     The latest draft calls for a parliament consisting of a 500-seat lower house and a 200-seat upper house. Under the 2007 constitution, which was in effect until the May 2014 military coup, a majority of members in the 150-seat upper house needed to be chosen via election. But the new draft proposes that all members of the upper house be appointed by various groups and experts.

     The proposed election system combines single-seat constituencies with proportional representation to make it difficult for one faction -- such as Thaksin supporters -- to dominate. To elect a prime minister, each party would announce three candidates beforehand.

     The authority to interfere with the national government is another area of controversy. The previous draft would have let a military-backed committee override the national government or parliament in case of political turmoil. The new version skips this stipulation, instead allowing the constitutional court to intervene.

     The pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party criticized the new draft, saying it would weaken a civilian government.

     The drafting committee will solicit opinions from the military-led National Council for Peace and Order, the cabinet, the caretaker legislative assembly and others, while also considering the voices of citizens. The committee seeks to finalize the proposed constitution as early as the end of March for a referendum in July.

     Ayako Toyama, visiting researcher at Thammasat University, called the new draft an improvement from the previous one but said it remained undemocratic.

     Meechai Ruchupan, who chairs the drafting committee, told a news conference Friday that the draft is not complete and is open to revisions.

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