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Apr 17, 6:48 AM EDT

Thai charter, weakening political parties, ready for review


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BANGKOK (AP) -- A draft of Thailand's new constitution, written to reduce the power of major political parties and keep politicians in check, was submitted to an advisory council for review on Friday, nearly a year after the military took power from an elected government.

The military abolished an earlier constitution after the May 22 coup, and the government operates under a temporary charter. The junta later picked the drafters and a 250-member National Reform Council to help write a new constitution.

Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Gen. Lertrat Ratanavanich said he hoped the new constitution will move the country past almost a decade of political conflicts.

"We have drafted this constitution as it is a reform one, in hopes of leading the country out of cycles of conflicts, disunity and undemocratic fights," Lertrat told The Associated Press. "I'm confident this constitution will provide justice to every side (of the conflict), more than the previous charters."

However, critics say the charter is aimed at preventing a political comeback by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in 2006 after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king. Thailand has remained divided since, with Thaksin supporters and opponents struggling for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

Lertrat said one of the emphases in the new constitution is to make sure that politicians are clean and they operate within a system of checks and balances.

He said the charter will introduce a multi-party government system that will hold the executive branch accountable but critics have expressed concerns that the system can weaken the government's stability.

The version of the draft submitted to the NRC says more than one-third of Senate members will be elected by voters, a change from their original plan to have the entire upper house appointed.

It remains unclear if a public referendum will be held before the new charter is enacted. The government this week did not show their strong support for the idea.

"(The government) believed a referendum is one channel that could allow people to follow and monitor the charter draft, but we have to think about the possibility that it could lead to a confrontation or a conflict among groups with differing opinions," Maj. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the deputy government spokesman said Thursday.

The National Reform Council will discuss the draft for seven days before proposing some changes to it within 30 days. The drafting committee then has 60 days to study and make the changes before handing it back to the council, who will then vote whether to endorse it.

The drafting committee will submit the draft to the junta and the Cabinet for separate reviews on April 27.

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