Concerns new Thai constitution will stifle democracy

By Panarat Thepgumpanat BANGKOK (Reuters) - Politicians in Thailand expressed concern on Friday about a military-backed draft constitution they say is undemocratic and could be divisive by giving too much power to a military appointed "super board" to oversee governments. The newly drafted constitution, Thailand's 20th, will be submitted to a junta-appointed National Reform Council (NRC) on Saturday. The NRC will then vote on the draft on Sept. 6 and if it passes, it will be put to a referendum in January. Politicians said they expected the charter to pass the September vote but to be rejected in the referendum which would then mean the drafting process has to begin again, and the delay an election the junta has promised for late next year. Of particular concern is a proposal for a 23-member National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation committee dominated by the military that allows security forces to intervene in a crisis. Nikorn Jamnong, chief adviser of the Chart Thai Pattana Party, one of the country's main parties, likened the committee to a "super board" dominating government. "It's an undemocratic constitution ... No political party agrees with this constitution," Nikorn told Reuters. "There could be more political division if the reform committee takes sides and gives too much power to any one government." Thai politics has been riven for a decade by a struggle between ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment, which see the populist former telecommunications tycoon as a threat. Critics say the new charter is aimed at, among other things, preventing a comeback by Thaksin and parties linked to him, which have won every election since 2001. Nipit Intarasombat, deputy leader of the Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest political party, which is traditionally pro-establishment, said the proposed reform and reconciliation committee could unfairly ensure complete power for a government it backed. "If the constitution has this committee of 23 people, if they are on the same side as the government, then it will give unlimited power to that government," he said. Nipit said he believed the NRC would approve the draft next month but he thought the charter would not be approved in the referendum. Submission of the draft comes days after Thailand's worst bombing, in which 20 people, more than half of them foreign tourists, were killed. On Thursday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief took power in a May 2014 coup, reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to stimulate the flagging economy. (Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)