Thai king endorses new constitution, 20th since 1932

Cheryl Sanders
April 7, 2017

His Majesty the King officially endorsed the 2017 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall.

"Let the Thai people be united in complying with and protecting the constitution of Thailand to maintain the democratic system and sovereignty", Vajiralongkorn said in a statement read by a palace official after the signing ceremony. Elections could now be held next year.

The military's second attempt at a revised constitution was approved by national referendum in August previous year, but later included some adjustments requested in January by King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

Thailand's king signed the country's new military-backed constitution on Thursday, approving a charter that could see the ruling junta allow fresh elections but limit the authority of the politicians who eventually take office.

In January, King Vajiralongkorn returned the constitution draft previously approved by referendum to the National Legislative Assembly requesting changes to certain articles relating to his own powers and to the role of his privy council in appointing regents.

The Pheu Thai Party said it was more optimistic about election prospects now.

The army initially promised an election in 2015, after seizing power from a government run by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader ousted in 2006.

Thailand's main political division remains between a Bangkok-based, strongly royalist and pro-army elite and poorer supporters of the Shinawatra movement, particularly from the rural north and northeast.

But opponents say the new document means any polls, whose date keeps slipping, will only offer Thais a form of neutered democracy with a fully appointed senate and tough controls on elected politicians.

"With the constitution in place, an election seems more a reality", said Chavalit Vichayasuthi, its acting deputy secretary-general.

The government also said it would take about 18 months to prepare for the polls, including at least eight months to pass four election-related laws.

Yingluck, the former prime minister, said the Thai people were looking forward to a normal situation with an elected government in an interview posted Wednesday on the Facebook page of publisher Khaosod English.

Analysts say the latest constitution harks back to the Cold War-era when Thailand's elected lawmakers were often kept in check by unelected bodies and committees in what many called "guided democracy".

Vajiralongkorn spent considerable time living in Germany in recent years as Thailand's crown prince, making his private villa there his second home.

The king's endorsement has now set in motion a sequence of events which will eventually lead to a general election and an end to military rule, the prime minister said in a televised speech. "We still aren't allowed to hold meetings, but we're doing what we can".

Thursday was a public holiday to mark the establishment of the Chakri dynasty 235 years ago. The current king, himself a former soldier, is also known as King Rama X in the dynasty.

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