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Thailand's Coup Plotters Award Themselves Immunity

Thailand's Coup Plotters Award Themselves Immunity


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The military junta unveiled on Wednesday (September 27) a draft constitution awarding themselves "complete immunity" after they toppled Thailand's elected government in a bloodless coup, declared martial law, shredded the previous constitution, banned politics, and curbed the media.

The military regime also gave themselves the power to create a National Assembly and pack it with 2,000 unelected, unidentified appointees, according to a published summary.

"Article 37 grants complete immunity for all actions to seize power, committed by the CDRM," said the summary of the draft of the interim constitution, published by the Nation newspaper on Wednesday (September 27).

The coup leaders initially demanded their six-man regime be called the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), but recently shortened their title to the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR).

The immunity clause was to protect the junta, led by Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, from prosecution for premeditated, and spontaneous, military and civil actions they performed during their Sept. 19 coup.

Armed with U.S.-supplied M-16 assault rifles, and backed by tanks, armored personnel carriers, and humvees, Gen. Sonthi's military faction stormed Government House, TV stations, military bases, highway intersections, and other key installations, and seized power while the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was in New York City visiting the United Nations.

The coup proceeded smooth as silk, without a shot fired, and gained support from many well-off Thais in Bangkok who hated Mr. Thaksin but could not defeat him in an election because he attracted overwhelming rural support.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej gave his blessing to the coup, signaling to Thais on all sides that a wait-and-see period should be allowed so the junta could arrange elections next year.

"Just imagine a clash between rival camps, should ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra choose to return [from London] to the country at this juncture," retired Gen. Surayud Chulanont told reporters on Wednesday (September 27).

Gen. Surayud was described by Thai media as a contender to be interim prime minister.

The draft of the interim constitution was to be submitted for approval by the king on Saturday (Sept 30).

The draft then takes effect and the junta's CDR mutates into a Council for National Security (CNS) to advise the interim government, ensure its security, and influence it in other ways.

The draft constitution made no mention of ending martial law.

"Article 3 guarantees basic rights, human dignity and equality under the law, in accordance with democratic rule, under the king as head of state, and international obligations," the draft said, without elaborating.

The junta will appoint a small National Legislative Assembly, linked to a National Assembly nearly 10 times as large, which is also to be appointed by the military regime.

"Article 5 outlines the formation, and duties, of the National Legislative Assembly, which will comprise 250 members appointed from professional groups, geographical areas and various sectors of society," the sketchy summary said.

They were expected to be able to enact laws, file lawsuits, and perform other legal tasks, and advise the yet-to-be-announced interim government, which may include up to 35 ministerial positions.

The National Legislative Assembly's speaker will also chair a larger National Assembly "comprising 2,000 members, appointed by the chairman of the Council for National Security," Article 19 said, referring to coup leader Gen. Sonthi.

The coup leaders earlier promised to appoint an interim administration within two weeks after seizing power, oversee creation of a new constitution within several months, and hold nationwide elections for a new government within one year.

The large National Assembly will select 200 people for a Constitutional Drafting Council (CDC), Article 21 said.

The junta, as Council for National Security, are empowered by Article 22 to whittle the 200 names down to 100 for royal approval, and then help select 35 finalists to actually write the new constitution.

"Article 25 empowers the CDC to select 25 charter writers from among its peers, and the Council for National Security to name 10 charter writers," the summary said.

The coup leaders cancelled the 1997 constitution amid complaints it contained "loopholes" which billionaire Mr. Thaksin manipulated, enabling him to win three elections and move toward re-election in polls which were scheduled for October or November.

"It [the coup] is against the law. If I say it's not against the law, I shouldn't be here," junta spokesman Maj.-Gen. Thawip Netniyom said in a Times of London interview published on Monday (September 25).

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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