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Thai Lawmakers Pass Constitutional Changes to King’s Powers

Nontarat Phaicharoen
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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha walks through Sanam Luang Park in Bangkok where people were paying their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej following news of his death, Oct. 13, 2016.

Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted overwhelmingly Friday for constitutional amendments to expand the powers of a new king whose signature is crucial for enacting a junta-backed draft charter.

The vote in favor of changing an interim constitution, which went into effect after the military seized power in a coup in 2014, was 228 to 0 with three members of the 231-seat assembly abstaining, according to a live telecast from the NLA chamber.

The NLA was required to pass amendments to the interim charter before it could make changes to the draft constitution, which King Maha Vajiralongkorn has requested. Now, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha can submit a revised draft charter for the monarch’s signature within 30 days, according to officials.

The king, who took the throne on Dec. 1 following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October, had reviewed a copy of the draft charter but did not sign off on it, requesting that parts dealing with the powers of the monarch be changed before he put his signature on it, Thai media reports said.

A majority of Thais voted for the draft charter in a referendum in August 2016. 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.

The proposed changes would allow the 64-year-old monarch – who has spent much time abroad during his adult life and has a home in Germany – to travel overseas without having to appoint a regent to rule the kingdom every time he leaves Thailand, Wissanu Kreau-ngam, deputy prime minister for Legal Affairs, said during Friday’s NLA session.

The amendments to the interim constitution also would give the prime minister and his government leeway in amending the draft charter, in case the king does not agree with it, Wissanu said.

“The amendment includes, the amendment of Section 2 of the interim charter 2014 on the royal regent appointment and Section 39/1 to empower the prime minister to fetch the draft constitution from the King for amendment,” Wissanu said.

When Prayuth announced earlier this week that the king had requested constitutional changes regarding his royal powers, this provoked doubts that the process of amending the charter could further delay the junta’s proposed road map for returning Thailand to democracy. But the prime minister suggested Tuesday that this would not affect his government’s plan to stage national elections in late 2017.

“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 said, referring to a state funeral planned for King Bhumibol this coming October.

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