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Thailand starts on new constitution

Published: 10:23PM Monday January 08, 2007 Source: Reuters

Thailand's post-coup leaders regained some momentum on Monday after a series of embarrassing setbacks, seeing the constitution-drafting council (CDC) they created elect a chairman and vow speedy progress.

Political professor Noranit Setabutr, 65-year-old favourite for the post, promised to have a new constitution ready to put to a referendum within six months.

"The vital duty of all 100 members of the CDC, including me, is to produce a good constitution to be accepted by the public within the 180-day timeframe," Noranit said after the council chose him as its leader.

It will probably be another two weeks before the council actually gets down to debating a new constitution as King Bhumibol Adulyadej must first approve Noranit's appointment.

But that is considered a formality, and settling the leadership of the committee is a major step forward.

Producing a constitution will be a critical milestone for the military which ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on September 19 in the country's first coup in 15 years.

The Council for National Security (CNS), as the coup leaders call themselves, promised to hold a general election under a new constitution within a year after acting to end what they called rampant corruption under Thaksin.

They won applause from the urban middle class for ending a months-long political crisis which included big street protests accusing Thaksin of undermining the old constitution to amass excessive personal power.

Little progress

But almost four months after the coup, the military-appointed government's standing with an increasingly restive public had diminished with little concrete progress discernible.

Promised corruption charges against Thaksin and his allies has yet to emerge from investigations, and progress towards a new constitution had appeared to be moving at a snail's pace.

Then the military and government were severely undermined on New Year's Eve by a spate of small bombs in Bangkok which killed three people, wounded 38, and left the city in shock.

Army-picked Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, whose government undermined investor confidence in December by imposing sudden currency controls which sent the stock market down 15% in a day, told people to brace for more such attacks.

Rumours of a counter coup which swept the Thai capital last week proved unfounded, but that did little to calm the city, where two opinion polls conducted by universities showed the government's popularity down from 90% to 50%.

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