Thai junta on guard for violence, fraud as referendum looms

Bangkok: Thailand’s junta leader today said security centres have been opened across the country to prevent unrest and voter fraud during next month’s referendum on a divisive re-write of the kingdom’s constitution. Former Army Chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power two years ago from the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in the latest act in the bitter political drama that has gripped Thailand for a decade.

He insists the new junta-scripted constitution will end a political crisis which has seen two coups and several rounds of deadly street protests since 2006. But opponents say the proposed charter will only deepen the rift by straitjacketing any elected government and embedding the role of army — and its establishment backers — in politics through an appointed senate.

Thais will vote on the document on August 7, the first return to the ballot box since the 2014 coup. It is expected to be rejected if the supporters of Yingluck’s toppled government vote in large numbers. But campaigning is banned ahead of the plebiscite as the army moves to douse flickers of discontent from pro-democracy campaigners.

Prayut, who is now prime minister, said Monday that centres had been established to allow the junta to “monitor the situation” as the referendum looms. “It is to prevent cheating and corruption… we will monitor every province to prevent clashes,” he said, adding they will be staffed by police.

A leader of the pro-democracy “Red Shirt” movement said the centres were unnecessary and a sign of military muscle-flexing as the vote nears. “There is no chance that ordinary people can cheat the vote at the referendum… only government officials can cheat during voting,” said Jatuporn Prompan, of the grassroots movement that supports ousted premier Yingluck.

Thailand’s so-called lost decade began in 2006 when a coup booted the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s elder brother, from power. His family and their proxies have won every Thai election since 2001. But they are hated by the Bangkok-based elite who refuse to accept defeat at the polls and instead fight back with coups, crackdowns on protests and lawsuits.

The junta has promised elections will go ahead in 2017 but has not clarified what will happen if the charter is rejected in the referendum, raising fears the timetable will slip once again.

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