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Thailand’s New Monarch Seeks Constitutional Changes

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2017-01-10
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People in a crowd hold up images of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn as they await his arrival in Krabi province, Dec. 1, 2016.
People in a crowd hold up images of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn as they await his arrival in Krabi province, Dec. 1, 2016.
AFP/Bangkok Post

A request by Thailand’s new king for some changes to a draft constitution regarding the monarchy will not affect elections expected for later this year, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters Tuesday.

The draft constitution passed a referendum in August 2016 and was sent to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for his endorsement after he assumed the throne on Dec. 1, following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in mid-October.

Prayuth said he learned of the request for a few changes to the junta-backed charter from palace officials on Monday.

“The royal words included three or four items that we need to amend accordingly to his power, and they are not related to the rights and freedom of the people,” Prayuth told media after a weekly cabinet meeting in Bangkok.

He did not disclose details of the requested changes.

A government document shows that King Vajiralongkorn wants the constitution changed to reflect that the monarch would not have to appoint a regent whenever he travels overseas, according to the Reuters news service. The new king has spent much of his adult life in Germany, and flew home when his father’s frail health deteriorated sharply in October.

In other news related to the monarchy in Thailand, where a strict law known as Lese-Majeste guards against royal defamation, on Tuesday a petition signed by more than 3,000 people called for the release of a student activist who was the first charged under the law since the new king took the throne.

During the final few years of King Bhumibol’s 70-year reign, dozens of Thais were arrested over allegations of perceived slights against the royals. In the case of the latest suspect, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, he was taken into custody and accused of Lese-Majeste for sharing a BBC News profile of King Vajiralongkorn on his Facebook page.

‘Politics are advancing’

Prayuth said the deadline for approving the constitution was next month, although the amendments to it would take a few more months.

“It is still within the time frame of Feb. 6. We will amend the copy and re-propose the amendment to the king. All processes will take two to three months to get done,” the prime minister said.

“The politics are advancing. The constitution will be pushed and after the royal cremation, the election campaign will be on with elections in late 2017, and we will have a new government in 2018,” Prayuth added.  King Bhumibol is to be cremated in October, one year after his death.

The royal palace did not say if King Maha Vajiralongkorn would endorse the constitution without the requested changes.

The draft constitution seeks an appointed senate with seats reserved for military commanders, limits on parliamentary authority, enhanced powers for non-elected state agencies and a provision for a non-elected prime minister.

Prayuth took power following a coup against a civilian-led government in May 2014, and promised fresh elections in 2017. He presented a road map listing a time frame leading to the elections including key issues including approving the constitution and establishing election-related regulations.

In recent weeks, Meechai Ruchuphan, the chief of a junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said elections might instead take place in March or April 2018 because of the slow progress.

Lese-Majeste suspect

Meanwhile, supporters of royal defamation suspect Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, better known as “Pai Dao Din,” went to the National Human Rights Commissioner’s office on Tuesday to submit a petition seeking help in efforts to free him on bail.

Jatupat was arrested on Dec. 3 for sharing the BBC article on Facebook that was deemed offensive to the new King. Jatupat was released on bail two days later, but rearrested on Dec. 22 and his bail was revoked.

“The court has ordered him to be detained and said Pai did not show respect to law enforcement. He did not remove the earlier controversial BBC article,” Pai’s lawyer Krisadang Nutcharas told BenarNews at the time.

About 3,300 people signed a petition on change.org regarding Pai’s right to bail, Rangsiman Rome, a member of the Platform of Concerned Citizens, said Tuesday.

“In this case, a committee has opened an inquiry into it,” said Angkhana Neelapaijit, a human rights commissioner who received the petition.

“Pai’s father has also submitted a letter of complaint on unfair bail rejection. We will take a look at the letters from all sides and we will try our best under the authority we have but we cannot interfere with the court’s power.”

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