BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's coup-installed military regime
announced a new constitution Tuesday allowing for an appointed Senate
including six seats for the security forces, plus a possible unelected
prime minister and other blocks against popular politicians forming a
government based on majority rule.
   The junta said it will permit about 50 million eligible voters to
decide for or against its constitution in a referendum on August 7,
but anyone who criticizes the charter too strongly could be jailed for
10 years.
   If the constitution is approved, nationwide parliamentary elections
could be held in 2017.
   "The important thing about this constitution -- although there is
no statement that people have the power -- everybody has rights,
everybody is equal, everybody is provided with protection," said
Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the junta's appointed Constitution
Drafting Committee (CDC), displaying to reporters the 105-page,
279-article constitution.
   The junta, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, calls itself a
National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
   Its new constitution allows the NCPO to appoint a panel which
chooses Parliament's 250-member Senate, including six seats for the
head of the army, navy, air force and national police, plus the
military's supreme commander and defense permanent secretary.
   Critics describe the Senate plan as a "coup in disguise," the
Bangkok Post reported in mid-March when details emerged.
   The Senate can stage a no-confidence vote against a future elected
government, which would probably be a coalition of parties.
   If the move gains enough support in Parliament's lower House of
Representatives, the government could be brought down.
   The bicameral Parliament could also select a candidate as prime
minister who is not a parliamentarian or even a politician.
   That person could become prime minister if the appointed Senate approves.
   Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief, orchestrated
the writing of the constitution after he led the 2014 coup which
toppled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and ended the previous
   "Please do not assume the [NCPO] government wants to stay in
power," Mr. Prayuth said on March 18, describing his reasons for the
new constitution.
   "We want the Senate to take care [of Thailand] for a certain period
of time so the country can move forward for about five years," he said
while visiting supporters in Udon Thani city.
   "I just want five years," he said.
   "Capable people will be chosen as senators, including the
commanders of the armed forces and the defense permanent secretary,"
Mr. Prayuth said.
   Some critics called for a vote against the charter, while others
asked dissenters to boycott the referendum.
   It is unclear if their opposition will be enough to stop the
constitution being enacted.
   It is also not known what would happen if the referendum rejects
the constitution, which would be Thailand's 20th charter in the past
84 years, after more than a dozen coups.
   "People who propagate information deemed distorted, violent,
aggressive, inciting or threatening so that voters do not vote, or
vote in a particular way, shall be considered as disrupting the
referendum," the Election Commission said on March 28 to contain
public remarks about the constitution.
   Violators can be imprisoned up to 10 years and fined up to $5,600.
   "I will definitely reject this most horrible draft charter," said
Weng Tojirakarn, an influential leader of the pro-democracy Red
   "Having coup makers drafting the charter cannot ever make it
democratic," Mr. Weng said, according to Khaosod news on March 29.
   "It is like our ears, eyes and hands are being tied or shut," Mr.
Weng said, describing the junta's limits on free speech to debate the
   Mr. Weng was deeply involved when Red Shirts staged a nine-week
insurrection in 2010 blockading Bangkok's downtown streets while
demanding immediate elections and clashing with the army.
   After the army crushed the urban barricades in a final gun battle,
the nine weeks' fatalities totaled more than 90 people, most of them
Reds and other civilians.
   "Appointing top [military] brass as senators is necessary in terms
of security concerns," said Seree Suwanphanont, a member of the
junta's National Reform Steering Assembly.
   "It is not about prolonging power," Mr. Seree said.
   "Democracy is not for the people to reign supreme, but for them to
get the most benefits," said the CDC's Mr. Meechai, describing that
stance as benevolent Buddhist philosophy which should guide this
Southeast Asian country's 95 percent Buddhist population.
   The new constitution requires the government to promote the study
and dissemination of Buddhism's Theravada sect in schools, media and
elsewhere, and create mechanisms to protect Buddhism from destruction.
   The new constitution's powers for unelected senators and other
clauses are widely perceived as an attempt to prevent Ms. Yingluck or
her more popular brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra,
from returning to power.
   Mr. Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup in which then-Gen.
Prayuth participated.
   Mr. Thaksin is currently in self-exile dodging a two-year prison
sentence for corruption during his administration.
   Prime Minister Prayuth said on March 29 public displays of support
for Mr. Thaksin could be a punishable offence.
   Mr. Prayuth issued the warning hours after Theerawan Charoensuk,
57, was detained and released to face a possible charge of inciting
rebellion or sedition because she posted a photo on Facebook which
showed her holding a small plastic bucket which bore a written message
in the form of a greeting by Mr. Thaksin.
   "You have to see, the photo is about a man who broke the law," Mr.
Prayuth told reporters on March 29, referring to Mr. Thaksin.
   "Isn't support for a person who broke the laws and ran away from
the criminal case a wrong thing to do?" Mr. Prayuth said.
   "I can tell you what a new government will look like, we will have
a coalition government but the political party that wins most votes
will be in opposition," said Watana Muangsook, a politician who
belonged to the Pheu Thai ("For Thais") party led by Ms. Yingluck
before Mr. Prayuth seized power.
   "We will have a non-elected prime minister but we are all familiar
with him. This will be around for two consecutive terms, or eight
years," Mr. Watana said in mid-March, according to the Bangkok Post.
   "The key concern of the military junta is to act to ensure that the
Pheu Thai party of Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra can never win a majority,
for as long as he continues to retain his still considerable
popularity," Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political
Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, said in a recent interview.
   "Thailand is simply an autocratic society that occasionally toys
with democracy, or a stop-start democracy that regrettably retreats
into authoritarianism, each decade or so," Mr. Titipol said.
   "The danger is that the prime minister [and] Senate, being
unelected, may not be the persons that the electorate want, and may
carry out actions that they would not have approved of," said
political analyst and former academic Burin Kantabutra in a recent
   "Prayuth has consistently denied other parties opportunities to
voice their concerns or objections to his actions," he said.
   "I think that if Prayuth and the junta successfully pass a
constitution that meets their needs -- not the voters', especially
those of the Red Shirts -- tensions will keep rising and there may be
another coup d'etat in the next few years," Mr. Burin said.