New Thai Constitution Would Limit Prime Minister's Term

A proposed constitution for Thailand includes a non-elected upper house of parliament and limits on a prime minister's term in office. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the proposal will be put to the public in a referendum later this year.

The draft constitution was released seven months after the military coup last September that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin was accused of taking advantage of loopholes in the previous constitution to amass excessive power.

The 299-article draft was written by a 35-member committee appointed by the military junta. The military-installed government plans a public campaign to promote the proposal before it is voted on in August or September.

The proposed constitution would reduce the number of elected members in the lower house of parliament from 500 to 400, and allow for an appointed - rather than elected - upper house. The proposal would also limit a prime minister to two four-year terms.

Political analysts say the draft's main aim is to restrict the powers of the executive. Mr. Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party won landslide election victories in 2001 and 2005, allowing them to dominate parliament.

Critics said Mr. Thaksin's huge majority allowed him to weaken checks and balances on the executive, and to undermine the independence of the upper house, the Senate.

But the proposal to have an appointed Senate is being criticized by some. Kraisak Choonhavan, a political commentator and former senator, calls the idea a backward step in Thailand's democracy.

"The issue which is very worrisome is that they want the Senate to be a rubber-stamp Senate - meaning appointed," Kraisak says. "Can you believe that? In a democracy, such things are clearly a regression?"

Nevertheless, political analysts say that if the constitution is voted down by the public, it could add further to Thailand's existing political uncertainties.

If the constitution does pass the plebiscite, it will be Thailand's 18th since the country became a constitutional democracy in 1932. Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has promised to hold general elections for parliament in December.