[JURIST] Thailand's Constitution Drafting Assembly approved a final draft of a new constitution Friday, paving the way for an August 19 constitutional referendum and possible general elections in December. The 100-member body, appointed by the military, unanimously approved the 309-article draft presented [JURIST report] by the 35-member Constitutional Drafting Committee in April. The new constitution is part of an effort by the ruling Council for National Security [official website; Wikipedia backgrounder] to decrease populist influence by reducing the impact of elections, which plotters of last year's coup blame for bringing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [JURIST news archive] into power. Under the proposal [Nation report], the Thai House of Representatives would be reduced from 500 seats to 400 seats, 320 of which will be directly elected and 80 appointed from the party list. A multi-seat constituency system will also replace single-member districts. The proposal also seeks to eliminate direct elections for members of the Senate, who will be instead appointed by national and provisional committees composed of bureaucrats and judicial officials, and will reduce the number of senators from 200 to 150.
Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont [official profile; BBC profile] earlier this week ordered government officials to promote support for the draft [Bangkok Post], and the military-controlled parliament is expected to pass a bill later this month to penalize the obstruction or opposition to the referendum. The draft constitution is expected to face opposition from Buddhist activist groups that have unsuccessfully campaigned for Buddhism as a state-sponsored religion, democracy activists, and Thaksin's supporters. If the draft constitution is rejected by popular referendum, military leaders are authorized under the interim constitution imposed after last September's coup [JURIST reports] to revise an earlier constitution. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.