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First draft of Thailand's new constitution completed

The long waiting for the first draft of the new Thai Constitution is ended, one of its drafters said Wednesday. Thailand  will see now if it would hand long-term powers to coup leaders who ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Pro-democracy groups have expressed concern over several contentious proposals for the new constitution, including one to allow the appointment of a non-elected prime minister. Critics had feared an appointed prime minister would allow coup leaders to maintain a grip on power by naming the candidate of their choice.

According to excerpts of the new charter, which were published Wednesday in several Thai newspapers, the text retains a clause that says the prime minister must be an elected member of parliament, as has been the case in the past.

The draft is expected to be released to the public after it is officially presented to lawmakers and coup leaders on April 26, said Somkid Lertpaitoon, a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee. Somkid confirmed that the published excerpts were accurate.

Among other key points, the draft charter does away with an elected senate, stipulating that senators will be appointed instead of elected. Drafters said they wanted to avoid a repeat of past senates, which have been criticized as being full of political cronies and family members of politicians.

The proposed new constitution also reduces the number of lawmakers in the lower house of parliament from 500 to 400, Thai newspapers reported.

Lawmakers and other agencies will have two months to debate the constitution before a final draft is completed in July. The government and coup makers have pledged to hold a referendum on the charter in September, paving the way for elections in December.

Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, called the draft constitution a "revenge charter" that was less democratic than its predecessor, noting the reduction of parliamentarians.

Coup leaders scrapped the previous constitution, which was drafted in 1997, saying the new one would have fewer "loopholes" and make future leaders more accountable. Thaksin was accused of widespread corruption and abuse of power.

"The drafters, picked by the coup leaders, viewed the previous constitution as one that gave too much power to Thaksin," Thitinan said.

Thailand has had 17 constitutions since 1932 - a reflection of the political instability and military coups that followed the country's first charter that created a constitutional monarchy.

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