March 22, 2016 / 10:33 AM / in 2 years

Thai charter drafters say they accept some contentious junta points

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s constitution drafters said on Tuesday they had accepted proposals from the ruling junta that critics say are designed to prolong the military’s hold on power.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

The generals running Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy have vowed to restore stability in the politically divided country and hold a general election in 2017.

But critics, including main political parties, oppose some provisions in a new constitution they fear will dilute the power of parties and enshrine the military’s influence.

Those provisions include a 250-member unelected upper house Senate and the appointment of civil servants, including top military commanders, to the Senate.

“There will be 250 unelected senators with power to protect the constitution and push reforms,” Norachit Sinhaseni, a spokesman for the Constitution Drafting Committee, told reporters.

“About 2.5 percent of the Senate can be civil servants, or by my calculations, about six people,” he said.

The military ousted the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a 2014 coup, its second takeover in eight years of sporadic turmoil generated by conflict between populist political forces and the royalist-military establishment.

The junta discarded the previous constitution and has defended its drafting of a new one saying it wants to promote stability and good government, not prolong its power.

But even parties allied with the establishment and favorable toward the junta have criticized some of the charter provisions saying they would give the armed forces legislative control.

The then army chief who staged the 2014 coup, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, said the junta’s proposals for the constitution were aimed at helping future governments.

“Everything we do is for the next government,” he said.

The draft constitution will be put to a referendum in July. Prayuth, apparently mindful of investor concerns about prolonged political deadlock if the charter is rejected, has said an election will be held in 2017 no matter what.

Additional reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel

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