Thai Voters Approve Controversial Charter: Unofficial Results

Don Pathan
160807-TH-voter-1000 A woman casts her ballot at a polling station at Klong Lamjiak School in Bangkok, as Thais voted in a constitutional referendum, Aug. 7, 2016.

A 61 percent majority among 27 million Thais who turned out at nationwide polls on Sunday voted for a draft constitution that promises elections next year but allows the military-backed government to influence the process, unofficial results showed.

Among the 55 percent of Thailand’s 50.6 million-strong electorate who voted in Sunday’s national referendum, 15. 5 million voted ‘yes’ for adopting the draft charter, versus 9.7 million - or 38.6 percent - who voted  ‘no,’ according to a nearly complete unofficial tally of ballots by Thailand’s Election Commission (EC).

A majority of voters also opted in favor of a controversial clause in the draft charter that would allow 250 junta-appointed senators to join 500 elected MPs in picking a new prime minister for a five-year period, according to the EC’s unofficial count of 94 percent of all votes.

Fifty-eight percent voted “yes” on the clause but nearly 42 percent rejected it. Critics of the charter have pointed to this clause as potentially giving the junta a measure of control over parliament and watering down the power of elected lawmakers.

Sunday’s vote nonetheless marked the first time in more than two years that Thais went to the polls since the military seized power amid political turmoil, with observers touting the referendum as the first major measure of the junta’s popularity.

The absence at the polls of an overwhelming nationwide majority backing the charter suggests that “Thailand is still deeply a divided country along political lines,” Chanintira Na Thalang, an assistant professor in political science at Thammasart University in Bangkok, told BenarNews.

Violence mars southern polls

In the northern provinces that are a stronghold for the opposition Pheu Thai Party – whose government fell in the May 2014 coup – a majority voted for the new constitution.

But other parts of the country rejected it. In the run-up to the vote, leaders of two of Thailand’s major parties, including Pheu Thai, had voiced their objections to the draft charter, saying it was not democratic enough.

In the northeast, slightly more than 50 percent of voters turned it down. In Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and insurgency-stricken Deep South, a large percentage of voters cast ballots against the charter.

In the Deep South provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, majorities ranging between 59 percent and 66 percent voted down the charter, respectively, with “yes” votes capturing only between 34 and 40 percent of ballots, according to the EC’s latest figures.

The commission will announced the referendum’s official results on Wednesday, unless the EC receives any formal complaints about Sunday’s vote.

At least a half-million voters turned out at polls across the Deep South alone, even though a series of bombings by suspected separatist insurgent targeted telephone poles in Narathiwat on Saturday night, causing power outages, police said.

Early Sunday morning, before polls opened at 8 a.m., a motorcycle-bomb attack targeted a polling site in the province but no one was hurt, according to police.

But after polls closed, a civilian volunteer was killed in a roadside bomb attack on Sunday evening that targeted a truck carrying boxes of cast ballots in Sai Buri, a district of Pattani, police said.

Divided electorate

The polls were open for eight hours as millions of Thais lined up to cast their ballots at voting sites in Thailand’s 77 provinces.

Among those who voted in northeastern Khon Kaen province – some 450 km (280 miles) from Bangkok – was Adisak Raksaphol, an employee with a local private company.

“I rejected this draft. I don’t have to read the entire charter to know that the entire Senate chamber will not be democratically elected,” Adisak told BenarNews.

Proponents of the new charter said a “yes” vote would help bring about stability and end a decade of turmoil in Thai politics.

“I accepted it because it is a way of bringing the country back to the path of normalcy. I don’t want to see any more battles because we are all Thais here. The country has suffered too much already,” Shane Nanthawin, a voter who works as a freelance photographer in Bangkok, told BenarNews.

During the months leading up to the referendum, the junta had banned public campaigning over the draft charter, which was unveiled in March by a military-appointed Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC).

On Sunday, more than 200,000 police were deployed to polling stations to maintain order.

Apart from reports of violence in the Deep South, the day passed by relatively calmly elsewhere in the county, except for one incident on the outskirts of Bangkok.

At a polling station, a university student ripped up a ballot in front of journalists and yelled out “Long live democracy!”

Police officers who were standing nearby quickly moved in to haul off the young man.

He wore a black T-shirt with the words “No Coup” emblazoned on it in large letters.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Khon Kaen province, Rapee Mama in Narathiwat province, Nasueroh in Pattani province and Pimuk Rakkanam in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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