Thai lawmakers put off vote on constitutional amendments

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Pro-democracy supporter raises a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, with words on his head reading "Dissolution of Parliament" during a protest outside parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. Lawmakers in Thailand are expected to vote Thursday on six proposed amendments to the constitution, as protesters supporting pro-democratic charter reforms gathered outside the parliament building. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK – Scheduled voting by Thai lawmakers on six proposed amendments to the country’s military-backed constitution was canceled at the last minute Thursday as Parliament voted instead to set up a committee to further consider such proposals.

The action, taken after two days of debate, means any vote on constitutional amendments is likely to be postponed for at least a month, and likely longer.

At least 1,000 protesters pushing for charter reform gathered outside the Parliament building, and were angered when they heard that the voting might be postponed. They issued three demands for changes to the charter, including reform of the monarchy, limits to the powers of the unelected senators, and the election, not appointment, of any constitutional drafting committee’s members.

Protest leaders threatened that they would hold another rally in October if their demands are not met by Sept. 30.

“The people have come here to show their power in front of the Parliament," said protester Nawat Yamwattana. "The members of Parliament and senators must listen to the people’s voices.”

The new parliamentary committee will comprise governing coalition and opposition members of the Lower House, along with the nominally non-partisan members of the Senate, an appointed body.

Reform of the constitution is a major demand of the growing student-led anti-government movement that held a large rally this past weekend in the Thai capital. Their other core demands are for new elections and an end to intimidation of political activists, saying they are needed to strengthen democracy.

The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had indicated it also supports some sort of constitutional reform, evidently to appease the protesters and buy some time against possible confrontations.