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Eager for democracy, Thais weigh junta's constitution

Many Thais see the proposed charter as a step back for democracy.

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Polls suggest that voters in Thailand will approve a new constitution, proposed by the ruling military junta, by a wide majority in a referendum Sunday.

The constitution, which would reduce the power of political parties and increase that of nonelected bureaucrats and judges, is widely viewed as a reaction to the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed last September. Mr. Thaksin, whose populist economic policies made him a hero among Thailand's rural poor, was seen as too powerful by the country's urban elite.

While many Thais see the new constitution, which would legitimize last September's military coup, as a step back for Thailand's democracy, a majority of voters will probably accept it as a first step toward the parliamentary elections the junta has promised for December.

"I will go to vote 'yes' on August 19," says Saowaluck Promsupa, a Bangkok DVD vendor who, like many voters, says she has little knowledge of the document's ins and outs. "The reason is very simple. I want to see the election happen at the end of the year so that our country can go back to peace. If I vote 'no,' this crazy stuff happening to Thailand right now will not end."

The vote itself doesn't represent much of a choice, as the generals will still be able to pick any constitution and make any changes they wish in case the public votes it down. But junta leaders are using all available resources to push for a high turnout since low participation or a surprise defeat would undermine the military-installed government's legitimacy. The vote this weekend will be the first time Thais have visited the polls since the coup.

Critics say the constitution may also herald a return to the pre-Thaksin Thailand of the 1990s – a period marked by weak executives and frequent power shifts.

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