Rejection of draft sets back plans for Thailand’s return to democracy, with the military retaining substantial powers.
Hundreds of Thai protesters have defied a ban on demonstrations and marched in Thailand’s capital in a rare rally against the country’s military government.
Lines of police stood by as crowds of people chanted “no dictatorship” and carried anti-junta banners, marching peacefully in central Bangkok on Saturday.
The protesters condemned the government for using draconian measures to silence detractors.
The protest also marked the ninth anniversary of a previous coup against the government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that many Thais see as the trigger for an intractable conflict that is showing no signs of abating.
Protests have been rare since the generals overthrew the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, in a the latests coup in the country in May last year.
The demonstrators attended a forum at Bangkok’s Thammasat University which the government allowed to take place, but permission was denied for their march beyond its walls.
“Peoples’ rights have been taken away, too many have been detained,” said Montra Thongsuksan, a demonstrator carrying a sign saying “return power to the people”.
“I have to show solidarity, against the military. I’m scared, but I’m willing to march to show we won’t give up,” he told the Reuters news agency.
The military has been criticised by the international community for rounding up hundreds of activists, some for demonstration of just a few people. Many, including journalists and politicians, have been forced to attend “attitude adjustment” sessions at army bases.
Thailand has been caught in a dilapidating tug-of-war between supporters of the politically dominant Shinawatra family and a royalist military backed by a network of old-money conservatives whose influence is being challenged.
The military will not cede power soon; Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who staged the coup said last week an election could take place in July 2017.
The timeframe was pushed back about a year after a military-appointed panel on September 6 rejected a draft constitution in a vote many analysts believe the top brass may have influenced to prolong its rule.
There was no uniformed military presence at the rally and police, who estimated 400 attended, made no obvious attempt to stop it.
“We are observing, to keep things in order,” the commanding officer, Major General Pongpan Wannapak, told Reuters.