BANGKOK – A large majority of Thais voted in favor of the military-drafted constitution, according to the early results of Sunday’s national referendum announced by the Election Commission of Thailand.
With about 94 percent of the votes counted, around 61.5 percent of voters backed the draft charter drawn up by a military-appointed committee, while 38.5 percent did not.
As for the second question in the referendum on whether junta-appointed senators can take part in choosing the prime minister, 58.1 percent voted “yes” while 41.8 percent voted “no.”
EC spokesman Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said that the turnout was 55 percent, down from 57.6 percent in the last national referendum in 2007.
He voiced hope that the official results would be announced on Wednesday.
Voting was held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with counting beginning immediately afterward.
There are some 50 million eligible voters, and the commission earlier expected voter turnout of as high as 80 percent.
Observers have noted that a ban by the Election Commission on campaigning for or against the draft constitution led to insufficient awareness by the public of what is at stake.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha cast his vote at a polling station near his residence in the morning. After doing so, he called on Thais to exercise their voting rights in the referendum, saying it is the way to set the direction of the country’s future.
“I want to urge you (voters) to sacrifice for our nation by voting with a landslide turnout, voting in referendum is international democracy,” Prayut said.
On Saturday night, at least 10 small explosions were reported in the Muslim-majority southern provinces of Narathiwat and Yala, which the authorities said were intended to create fear and discourage people from leaving their homes to vote.
The draft constitution’s approval means it will become the country’s 20th charter since it transformed from absolute monarchy to democracy in 1932.
It has been criticized on several key points, particularly the provision stating that the military government, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is empowered to select 250 senators in the first five years of the transitional period.
More importantly, the appointed senators can participate in electing the prime minister.
The NCPO led by Prayut, who was the army chief in 2014, staged a coup toppling the democratically elected government at that time. Although he has become the prime minister in the interim government, Prayut still holds the position as the NCPO’s chief.
Some critics have said allowing NCPO-appointed senators to choose the prime minister is undemocratic.
The draft constitution also empowers the Constitutional Court to call a special meeting with other agencies’ leaders, including the prime minister, the opposition leader and judicial leaders, if the country faces a political deadlock.
Key political rivals including former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have said they would vote to reject both the draft constitution and the participation of the Senate in selecting the premier.
Bangkok resident Suchitra Chitworajinda, 55, said she voted to approve the draft constitution and participation by the military-appointed Senate in electing the next premier.
Suchit Bunbongkarn, an academic who helped draft the country’s 1997 constitution, said the political division among Thais will continue, but the intensity of conflict will lessen if the referendum receives approval followed by the holding of elections.
However, he has no doubt that the military will play an integral role in forming the next government.
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