BANGKOK -- Thailand unveiled a draft constitution yesterday that eliminates direct elections for the country's Senate, bolsters the power of the judiciary and absolves the leaders of the September military coup of any wrongdoing.
Adoption of a new constitution, which would be Thailand's 18th since the abolition of absolute monarchy 75 years ago, is crucial to resolving the yearlong political crisis and a prerequisite for a return to democracy.
But the document, which was drafted by a 35-member committee selected by the junta, quickly came under criticism yesterday as not being democratic enough.
"It's a constitution designed to decrease democracy and the role of the electorate," said Ji Giles Ungpakorn, an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University. "It's a quick drafting to try to deal with the past problems in a very narrow way." The drafters of the constitution will officially present the document in public forums beginning next week after the draft has been published in newspapers.
The country is yearning for political stability at a time when the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the symbol of continuity in the face political turmoil, is ailing.
The document, which was posted yesterday on the Parliament's website, includes several important departures from the 1997 Constitution, which the coup leaders rescinded when they seized power in September.
The country would retain its bicameral system of a House of Representatives and Senate, but drafters changed the way the members of each body are selected. Senators would be appointed by a committee convened by seven top bureaucrats and judges including the heads of the Election Commission and National Countercorruption Commission and the president of the Constitutional Court.
This change would represent a significant shift in power away from the electorate to unelected judges and civil servants. "They wanted to enhance the judiciary," said Gothom Arya, a former election commissioner, referring to the drafters. "They wanted to readjust the balance of power and give more say to the bureaucracy."
The House of Representatives, which would be reduced to 400 members from 500, would continue to be directly elected, but constituencies would in some cases have several representatives -- a change from the one-constituency, one-representative system.
Analysts said the primary goal of the drafters was to diffuse power and avoid the reemergence of a dominating leader like Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister reviled by the Thai elite and ousted in the September coup.