May 13, 2015 / 11:15 AM / in 2 years

Thai constitution panel urges referendum on controversial charter

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Drafters of Thailand’s new constitution will recommend to the prime minister that a referendum be held to give the public the final say on the military’s blueprint for restoring democratic rule, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Since taking power in a coup almost a year ago, Thailand’s junta has come under domestic and international pressure to hold elections, which they say can only take place under a new constitution.

Kamnoon Sittisamarn spokesman for the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) said there was agreement among the 36-member panel that public support for the charter be sought via a plebiscite.

“We have a joint opinion on the principle that the new draft constitution should involve the people,” he told Reuters. “Today the CDC will send a letter for the prime minister to consider.”

The cabinet and National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta calls itself, have the power to decide on the holding of a referendum, Kamnoon said.

The National Legislative Assembly, the military-dominated interim parliament, would need to amend the temporary constitution now in place should a referendum be approved.

A draft constitution completed last month has drawn fierce criticism from political parties who say it is intended to neuter parliament, create weak coalition governments and allow unelected bureaucrats and judges to overrule policy decisions.

A constitutional referendum was last held in 2007 and received the support of 58 percent of the electorate. The turnout was low, despite an intensive public relations campaign by the military, which had seized power a year earlier.

Thailand’s two main political parties have said a simple yes/no referendum would be insufficient this time and want the voters to be given the chance to say which previous constitution they prefer should they reject the new draft.

If passed, the latest constitution would be Thailand’s 20th since it became a democracy in 1932.

The CDC has, however, warned that a referendum could push back elections tentatively slated for the first quarter of next year. CDC president Bawornsak Uwanno has estimated a delay of three months if a plebiscite were held.

Editing by Martin Petty and Alex Richardson

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