BANGKOK -- The rejection of the draft of a new constitution by the military-appointed National Reform Council appears to reflect strong public opposition while also showing the government wants more time to revitalize the economy.
After 10:30 a.m. Sunday, council members voted on the draft by roll call at the parliament in Bangkok. Votes in opposition piled up quickly, leading to a total of 135 no votes against 105 approvals, with seven refraining.
Following this rejection, the National Council for Peace and Order must nominate 21 new members for the drafting committee within 30 days and draw up a new draft within 180 days so that a public referendum can be held next summer.
The rejected draft, announced in late August, included a clause that would allow the military-heavy National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee to have more power than the cabinet and parliament in times of emergency, based on two-thirds approval by the committee itself. The committee of up to 23 members would comprise top leaders of the army, navy and air force, and only up to three elected government officials including the prime minister.
Given Thailand's history of repeated military coups, the proposed framework supposedly sought to bring politicians and military leaders to the table for resolution. But it faced opposition not only from supporters of the anti-military former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra but also members of the conservative Democratic Party.
Wanchai Sornsiri, an NRC member who is an attorney by training, told reporters the clause on the committee was a deadly "poison," and that he succeeded in persuading other NRC members to turn against the draft in discussions with them over the past 10 days.
Some say the military government turned a blind eye to such efforts because it wanted to avoid the turmoil of rejection in the public referendum later.
Many of the council members who voted against the draft were from the military and police, a member of the drafting committee told The Nikkei.
Interim Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who spearheaded the 2014 coup as head of the nation's army, had said Friday in a televised speech that the government seeks to advance reform without conflict. Taking a cue from his statement, which implied the government wants to avoid divisive public referendums, more NRC members voted against the draft, according to one Thai media outlet.
The military government may have sought to prolong its hold on power, too. Many NRC members shared the belief that reviving the flagging Thai economy is the priority and the country cannot afford political conflicts over a new constitution now, according to Paiboon Nititawan, a member of the drafting committee who is also involved in the NRC.
The military government has just reshuffled the cabinet, appointing Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak to oversee economic policies. Some apparently insisted that the new cabinet be given time to act.
The pro-Thaksin United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship criticized the military government Sunday by saying that a dictator is never able to build a democratic system.
Thailand is home to the operations of more than 4,500 Japanese companies, mainly in the automotive industry. A staffer at one Japanese company emphasized the importance of continuity in economic policies, regardless of whether a military or civilian government is in power. Another Japanese company employee expressed hopes that Somkid would be given an opportunity to demonstrate his ability now that the military is set to stay in power longer.