King of Thailand Signs New Constitution

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed a new constitution, an essential step toward holding an election that the military government has promised to restore democracy after a 2014 coup.

The constitution is Thailand’s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. The long-awaited constitution replaces an interim document put in place after the 2014 coup.

Thais approved the outline of the new constitution in a referendum August 2016 but the palace requested changes in January after King Vajiralongkorn took over from his revered late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who had ruled for more than seven decades.

Six changes had been made to the constitution published in the Royal Gazette.

One change allows the king to travel abroad without appointing a regent. The king has spent much of the past few years in Germany, where he has a son in school.

Another change was the removal of a clause giving power to the constitutional court and other institutions in the event of an unforeseen crisis. Removing it underlined the king’s role.

The latest changes, made public for the first time when the constitution was published in the Royal Gazette to become law, also underlined the king’s power in the event of a crisis.

According to the timeline set out in the constitution, it could be late 2018 before a ballot and unforeseen delays are still possible.

The Army initially promised an election in 2015, after seizing power, in the name of ending political turmoil, from a government run by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader ousted in 2006.

One of the most controversial provisions of the new constitution is for the outgoing military government to appoint a senate that will have a say in appointing the prime minister.

The junta has argued the measure is necessary to prevent coups in a transition period after the election. Thailand has had 12 successful coups in the past 85 years.