Thailand approves military-drafted constitution in referendum

A majority of voters in Thailand on Sunday approved a military-drafted constitution in a referendum, paving the way for elections in 2017. 

According to the Election Commission, 61.45 per cent of voters approved the constitution while 38.55 per cent rejected the charter, with 90 per cent of the vote counted. 

The commission revised projections it had made earlier in the day that more than 70 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls. It said late Sunday that turnout was only 27.6 million or about 55 per cent. 

While both the main political parties had come out against a "yes" vote before the election, arguing the charter was "undemocratic," a more conciliatory note was struck on Sunday night. 

"We accept the results of the referendum and call on all stakeholders to accept the results," said former opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on Facebook. "We call on the junta to follow their roadmap towards a general election in 2017."

"The party and myself will continue to move forward and address the country's problems," he said. 

Abhisit and his political opponents had argued that the constitution would prolong military rule by allowing for a fully appointed upper house of parliament and provisions for an unelected prime minister.

Rangsiman Rome, a student activist who was arrested several times for protesting the constitution and the military regime, called the "yes" vote "a capitulation of democracy." 

"We feel that by voting 'yes', the Thai people are approving military rule for the foreseeable future," he told dpa by phone. 

The military denies the accusations from students and politicians, saying such measures are necessary to ensure checks and balance for the political system and to end corruption.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha released a statement late Sunday saying the government would "pay heed to the will of the people ... and do everything possible to address their concerns." 

"This referendum was not something that the government was required to do," the statement said. "It was a voluntary initiative taken by this administration as part of our people-centric approach to policy." 

The junta said ahead of the referendum that a "yes" vote would lead to elections by September 2017. 

Last update: Sun, 07/08/2016 - 15:38

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