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Thai Civil Society Concerned About New Draft Constitution

FILE - Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures in a traditional greeting during the start of a National Legislative Assembly meeting, Bangkok, August 2014.

Activists say latest version of charter has several steps to go before military government can call for fresh elections.

The latest version for a new charter from Thailand’s constitutional drafting committee is emphasizing steps to curb corruption, a move seen as a key step by the military government in its road-map back to democracy and new general elections.

According to constitutional lawyer Meechai Ruchupan, who led the draft charter released Friday — the second one issued since the military government took control in May 2014 — the document still has several steps to go before the military government can call for fresh elections, with analysts saying the first opportunity for a national polls may not be until 2018.

While Meechai says the draft is focused on combating corruption and ensuring financial discipline in state spending, political observers says several provisions, including allowing for a non-elected prime minister to oversee the government, have already drawn criticism.

Gotham Areeya, a lecturer and human rights advocate from Mahidol University, says civil society groups are meeting to put forward recommended amendments to the draft charter and are preparing for a campaign to debate the charter if the amendments are rejected.

Gotham says civil society groups hold several concerns, including uncertainties over the military government’s options should the draft be rejected by national referendum later this year.

“We have concerns that as it is it will not be so good for our democratization," Areeya said. "My very concern is that we don’t know what will happen if the referendum turns down the draft. So we need to have some clarification. We don’t want to choose between something which is not so correct with our views supposedly and something which we don’t know at all.”

Under the latest version of the charter, there will be 350 members of parliament elected under single constituencies, with a further 150 from party lists with 200 non-elected senators selected from 20 social and professional groups.

Major political parties have criticized the draft, saying the new charter places too many restrictions on political parties. Some analysts say the draft, while strengthening state authorities, reduces civil and community rights.

Other concerns include provisions which would limit parliamentary amendments to the constitution.

A deadline for submissions for amendments is set for February 15, with further public debate before the draft is set to go to a national referendum in July.

Thailand’s latest draft version of the constitution comes amid a decade-long political struggle and national divisions between the urban elite and the rise of rural based parties linked with former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile.

The first draft version released by the military government was rejected by the National Assembly in September.