Thailand referendum: Junta-backed constitution gets approval despite severe criticism

The supporters handed PM Prayuth Chan-ocha a convincing win in its first major popularity test since it seized power in 2014

A clear majority of Thai voters, on Sunday, approved a new military junta-backed constitution, despite claims from critics of the regime that it will deepen military control and increase divisions.

The junta led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was given a convincing win by the supporters in its first major popularity test since it seized power in a 2014 coup overthrowing the old constitution after months of political instability and occasional violence.

However, Thailand's major political parties have claimed that the Junta-backed constitution is undemocratic.

"The reason most Thais accepted the constitution is because they want to see a general election quickly," said Wirot Pao, Peau Thai Party leader.

The powerful Shinawatra clan and their allies, whose politics are highly condemned by Thailand's military-royalist regime, were hardest hit by the victory of the new constitution.

"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.

In the referendum called by the military government on August 7, 94 per cent was the total outcome with 62 per cent of the voters approving the new constitution while 38 per cent rejecting it.

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters that 91 percent of the ballots had been counted and that the result is not likely to change much even after all votes are in.

Prayuth, after casting his vote in Bangkok, urged all voters to come out and cast their vote.

"This is democracy so all eligible voters please come out," he said as reported by Al Jazeera.

However, the situation before the referendum was not democratic at all. Prayuth had banned open debate on the constitution and several people were arrested for speaking against it, including politicians and student activists.

Director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Paul Chambers said that the campaign was one sided and voters were forced to vote in favour.

"(It was) a one-sided campaign in which the junta indirectly encouraged 'yes' votes and arrested or intimidated referendum opponents," he said.

He further believes that this is the reason why many voters did not show up.

The vote comes amid concerns about the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88. The military has for decades invoked its duty as defender of the monarch to justify its interventions in politics.