Asia

Thai general election to be delayed for referendum

Yingluck Shinawatra shakes hands with her supporters outside the Supreme Court in Bangkok Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Yingluck Shinawatra appeared in court to deny charges of negligence

A general election in Thailand is to be delayed following a decision by the military government to hold a referendum on a new constitution.

The military has been in charge since a coup last year and an election was expected in the middle of 2016.

But a constitution re-drafted after the takeover is now to be put to the public.

Meanwhile, Yingluck Shinawatra, forced to step down as PM before the coup, is on trial on charges of negligence.

Thailand has seen almost a decade of divisive political conflict.

The military had ruled out a referendum, planning instead to seek opinion from a thousand selected respondents in each of Thailand's 77 provinces.

But a referendum has now been agreed. Before it can take place a committee meeting on 6 August needs to approve the draft constitution.

Once that has happened it will be at least three to six months before the referendum can take place, partly because 47 million copies of the constitution will need to be distributed to the public.

That could mean no election until the second half of 2016.

The draft constitution's contentious elements include:

  • Future elections being decided by a proportional representation system that leans towards smaller parties and coalition governments
  • An upper house comprised mostly of unelected members
  • Parliament being allowed to choose as prime minister someone who is not a politician or an MP

Critics say the constitution is aimed at preventing the return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in 2006, after being accused of corruption. He now lives in self-imposed exile.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Yingluck Shinawatra says the rice scheme was intended to help Thailand's poorer farmers

Thailand's Constitutional Court forced his sister Ms Yingluck from office in early May 2014 after finding her guilty of abusing her power. Weeks later, the military seized power saying it needed to restore order following months of street protests.

The Shinawatras, or parties allied to them, have won every Thai election since 2001.

Their opponents accuse them of cronyism, corruption and financially ruinous policies.

'Democracy will prevail'

Meanwhile, Ms Yingluck's trial on charges of dereliction of duty over her role in a controversial rice subsidy scheme has started. She pleaded not guilty.

The scheme paid rice famers in rural areas - where her party has most of its support - twice the market rate for their crop, in a programme that cost the government billions of dollars.

Ms Yingluck says she was not involved in the scheme's day-to-day operations and has defended it as an attempt to support the rural poor.

In January, she was retroactively impeached for her role in the scheme. She was also banned from politics for five years.

She told crowds outside the court in Bangkok she would prove her innocence.

Ms Yingluck maintains the charges she faces are intended to keep her out of politics. The next hearing in the trial has been scheduled for 21 July.

Her brother, Mr Shinawatra made a rare public appearance in South Korea earlier saying he believed "democracy will prevail" in Thailand.

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