April 17, 2015 / 3:58 PM / in 2 years

Draft Thai constitution complete, but strife seen ahead

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha delivers the speech to mark six months since a military-appointed legislature chose him as prime minister, at the Government house in Bangkok April 17, 2015.Damir Sagolj

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The generals who seized power in last year's coup in Thailand would be granted immunity from prosecution and unelected individuals allowed to become prime minister under a preliminary draft of a new constitution seen on Friday.

The draft seen by Reuters will be scrutinized by political stakeholders over the next five weeks. If endorsed, it would see a panel of so-called "wise men" steering junta-approved reforms and the adoption of a voting system derided by critics as regressive and likely to produce weak coalition governments.

Thailand's 20th charter since 1932 has been drawn up by a 36-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) appointed by the coup-makers to prevent a "parliamentary dictatorship". It would see only 77 of 200 senators elected, the rest appointed.

Promulgation is far from imminent and feedback must first be sought from the cabinet, the military and the National Reform Council (NRC) before being returned to the CDC on May 25 with possible suggestions.

Many of the panel's proposals have been covered by Thailand's media since the drafters started work in January. Some have drawn strong criticism from activists and rival political parties, which have not ruled out boycotts.

"Now isn't the time to say whether or not we'll run for elections," Samart Kaewmeechai, a Puea Thai Party member and former lawmaker, told Reuters.

"There's still time for the CDC to fix a major part - to make it a democracy that can be accepted by all sides."

One controversial clause is an amnesty covering last May's coup. A similar bill proposed in 2013 by the then-ruling Puea Thai to forgive most political-related offences committed the wake of the last putsch in 2006 triggered months of mass protests and eventually, a military takeover.

Another contentious issue is a clause allowing an individual not elected via the ballot box to become prime minister, providing he/she has two-thirds house support.

Some analysts believe the article is designed to allow Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to stay in charge beyond an election expected in 2016. Prayuth, the general who led the coup, on Friday reiterated he had no desire to cling on to power.

NRC member Direk Tuengfung said the constitution in its current form would stir more trouble.

"If you only want committees to be happy and don't listen to anyone, there will be problems," he told Reuters.

"From what I see from each political party, none of them want it and that could affect the next elections."

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Kaweewit Kaewjinda; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Alison Williams

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