The deputy prime minister of Thailand's military government says a referendum on a new constitution will be held on July 31 and will be followed by a general election before the end of next year, whether or not the new charter is approved



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BANGKOK — A referendum on a new Thai constitution will be held July 31 and will be followed by a general election before the end of next year, whether or not the new charter is approved, the deputy prime minister of the military government said Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon told reporters that the government has a plan ready for the election if the charter is rejected, though he did not give details. His remarks echoed recent comments by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and other key officials, who have come under pressure to commit to a date after an initial draft constitution was rejected last year by the interim legislature and the promised election postponed.

The government has said that criticism of the proposed new charter will be restricted, while soldiers will be deployed to explain its benefits to citizens.

A new draft constitution was recently unveiled and has drawn criticism for being undemocratic and reserving too much power for the military. It is widely believed that the army is concerned about stability when the throne passes from ailing 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been the constitutional monarch since 1946. The military's critics suggest it will keep its grip on power to ensure a smooth succession.

Prayuth staged a coup against an elected government in May 2014 when he was army commander, saying it was necessary to restore calm because of sometimes-violent political unrest. But critics of Prayuth's junta believe it is mainly seeking to cripple one political faction, that of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup. Thaksin's electoral popularity challenged the power of the country's traditional ruling class, which includes the military.

The junta has generally equated criticism of its actions with incitement to unrest and instability.

Asked about opposition to the draft charter, Prawit said: "If it is 100 percent democratic and there are people protesting on the streets, that would prevent the country from moving forward. How would that be helpful? I confirm that we will have an election in the year 2017, that's for sure."

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