Thailand's coup government appoints committee to draft new constitution



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BANGKOK — Thailand's military-installed government appointed a committee on Tuesday to draft the country's new constitution amid speculation that it will seek to bar former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies from politics.

The 36-member panel consists of law experts, academics, former senators and others with close ties to the military and traditional conservative establishment. The appointment came more than five months after the military, led by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, toppled an elected government headed by Thaksin's allies.

Prayuth, now Thailand's interim prime minister, said Tuesday the charter drafting will focus on people's participation, but his government has not given any indication that there will be a public referendum once the constitution is written.

Thailand has suffered from political instability since 2006, when an earlier military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin for alleged corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the king. Supporters and opponents of Thaksin have struggled for power since then at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

Prayuth suggested last month that the country's next elections may not occur until 2016, although he earlier set a target date of October 2015. He had also previously announced a roadmap calling for a new constitution in July 2015.

A military-dominated interim legislature was appointed in July, and a 250-member National Reform Council dominated by people close to the traditional ruling elite was seated last month to help give input for the new constitution.

"The constitution drafting committee must listen to opinions from the National Reform Council and must listen to the voice of the people to see what they can do to lessen conflict in the future and to create governance in the country's bureaucracy," Prayuth said at a news conference.

Since taking power and abolishing the previous constitution, the army appears to be carrying on the fight of Thaksin's opponents by instituting extensive political reforms aimed at blocking his return to power. It has quashed most dissent, threatening or arresting critics of its coup.

Analysts say the new charter will likely aim to uproot Thaksin and his allies from politics, a task that a 2007 constitution failed to accomplish after the 2006 coup.

"In a bid to prevent his party from dominating Parliament, the army — through the charter drafting committee — will likely insert a clause that prevents those who were temporarily banned from politics in the past from running in future elections," Ambika Ahuja, Southeast Asia analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group risk consultancy, said in a report this week. "This would permanently disqualify over two hundred of Thaksin's allies who were temporarily banned from politics, severely undermining Thaksin's bid to win elections when the army eases control."

The new constitutional panel, headed by Borwornsak Uwanno, a law expert and director of a conservative political think tank, will have 120 days to work on the draft after receiving suggestions from the National Reform Council. The reform council has to submit its opinions within 60 days of their first assembly, which took place on Oct. 21.

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