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Thailand lifts political ban
Move may see Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai party re-group under a new name.
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2007 09:18 GMT
Critics say the new charter allows the military to meddle in national politics
Thailand's army-appointed parliament has passed a law lifting a ban on activities by political parties, and allowing the formation of new parties to contest in the upcoming elections.
 
The ban was imposed following a peaceful coup last September, which also saw Thaksin Shinawatra removed from the prime minister's post.
The new law, passed on Wednesday with a majority 149-4 votes, has renewed hopes for Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai party to re-group under a new name.
 
Surviving party members have said they would form a new party and campaign against the new charter which is set for a referendum on August 19.

"We don’t necessarily all want Thaksin back. We just want democracy"

Sombat Boongamanong, protester

But despite the lifting of the ban on political activities, few voters and human rights groups believe either the referendum or poll can be free or fair.
 
Critics say the draft constitution weakens the role of politicians and gives too much power to bureaucrats, opening the door to army meddling in politics.
 
Sombat Boongamanong, a voter who was recently detained for opposing views, said it was a constitution by stealth.
 
"I think the army's perception of protesters is wrong. We don't necessarily all want Thaksin back," he said. "We just want democracy."
 
Thai Rak Thai was dissolved for electoral fraud while 111 of its leaders, including Thaksin who now lives in exile in London, were banned from politics for five years.
 
Security law
 
Nearly half of Thailand's 76 provinces
are under martial law
In addition to the new draft constitution, the military-led government is also amending the National Security Act to give the army greater powers of preventive detention.
 
Brad Adams, of Human Rights Watch, said the main power essentially remains in the hands of the army.
 
"It gives them judicial powers. It allows them to order people not to leave their homes," he said.
 
The military however denies the security law will be used to silence government critics.
 
General Ruengroj Mahasaranont, the Supreme Commander of the Thai Army, said good people had nothing to worry.
 
"It [the law] will only affect bad people. We think having this law is better than not having it," he added.
 
'New alliances'
 
Coup leaders have also formed their own alliances
ahead of the polls
Out of Thailand's 76 provinces, 35 are still under martial law imposed after the bloodless coup.
 
When the elections will be held and who will contest it remains unclear, says Selina Downes, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Bangkok.
 
"The military government dissolved the former prime minister's Thai Rak Thai party. But old members have formed new alliances," she said.
 
"The military too may form its own alliances, leaving many here wondering just how free and fair the elections can be."
 
The Democrats, Thailand's oldest political institution, said they support the draft constitution because it contains more strengths than weaknesses, and paves the way for national elections.
 
Korn Chatikavanij, the party's deputy leader, said: "If you were to ask what are the three priorities… the first would be the restoration of democracy."
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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