Thai junta passes ballot box test with referendum win

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his ballot at a polling station during a constitutional referendum vote in BangkokThai voters approved a junta-backed constitution in a referendum on Sunday, preliminary results showed, an outcome that paves the way for an election next year but will also require future elected governments to rule on the military’s terms.

Voters handed the junta led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha a convincing win in its first major popularity test at the ballot box since it seized power in a 2014 coup.

With 94 percent of the vote counted, early results from the Election Commission showed 61.4 percent of Thais had voted for the charter, while 37.9 percent rejected it. Full results are due on Wednesday.

The junta says the constitution is designed to heal more than a decade of divisive politics in Thailand that has dented economic growth and left scores dead in civil unrest.

But Thailand’s major political parties and critics of the government say the charter will enshrine the military’s political role for years to come.

The win was a blow to the powerful Shinawatra clan and their allies, whose populist politics are reviled by Thailand’s military-royalist establishment. Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006 and his sister Yingluck’s government was toppled by Prayuth in 2014.

The acting head of the Peau Thai Party, which carried Yingluck to power, said Thais may have voted pragmatically for the charter as the fastest route to an election.

“The reason most Thais accepted the constitution is because they want to see a general election quickly,” Wirot Pao-in told reporters at the Peau Thai’s Bangkok headquarters on Sunday. “All sides must now help move the country forward.”

Across town at the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship group, the tone was less conciliatory.

“What will we do next? Tell Prayuth that, although it seems he is winning, this is not a victory he can be proud of because his opponents have not been able to fight at their best due to threats and harassment,” said Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the pro-Shinawatra UDD.

Some people wept as the result became clear at the UDD headquarters in Bangkok. (Courtesy Reuters)