Bangkok / AFP
Thailand’s pro-democracy “Red Shirt” movement will vote against a new junta-scripted charter in a looming referendum, their leader said on Thursday, a move that could deepen the country’s political impasse.
The political play comes a day after the military, which seized power two years ago from a civilian government, said it will hold a plebiscite on their proposed charter in July.
The country’s nearly century-long struggle with democracy has seen a dozen military takeovers since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932, with constitutions torn-up and rewritten every time power changes hands.
The Red Shirts support toppled premiers YingluckShinawatra and her brother — the self-exiled billionaire Thaksin.The Shinawatra family and its allies have won every Thai election since 2001, powered to victory by rural votes in the poor but populous north and northeast.
“The Red Shirts will vote to reject this charter in the referendum,” chairmanJatupornPrompan said Thursday.
“We will see on referendum day,” he said when asked if he thought the movement’s supporters would come out in sufficient numbers to knock down the charter.
A draft of the latest document has already been pilloried as undemocratic by the Red Shirts and even some prominent supporters of the 2014 coup.
If passed, the charter would allow for an unelected prime minister, create a fully-appointed Senate and strengthen the courts — which have knocked out three premiers in the last decade.
The Red Shirts have played a key role in the nation’s bitter street politics since Thaksin was toppled as premier by an earlier coup in 2006.
Four years later scores of their supporters were killed in a military crackdown in central Bangkok, led by Prayut Chan-O-Cha who is the current premier.
The Red Shirt leadership has complied with a junta ban on all political activities since the last coup.
But observers are closely watching for any movement ahead of the upcoming referendum.
The charter’s military-appointed drafters have billed their work as an “anti-corruption” weapon that will tame shady politicians and populist governments. Critics say it is a crude instrument to stop the Shinawatra’s political ascendency on behalf of a Bangkok-based, royalist elite.
In a drive to promote the document, the junta said it will dispatch soldiers and teenage cadets across the country to “educate” people on its benefits.
The military government has not clearly stated what will happen if voters reject the charter.
But junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha has vowed to hold elections in July 2017 whatever happens at the