Thailand: Deputy PM claims soldiers have ‘free vote’ in referendum
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Thailand: Deputy PM claims soldiers have ‘free vote’ in referendum

THAILAND’S Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has denied rumors that soldiers have been instructed to vote in support of the draft charter in Sunday’s referendum.

Prawit, who is also Defense Minister, said on Monday that military personnel could vote as they liked in the upcoming referendum vote.

“There are no instructions whatsoever. Soldiers are allowed a free vote, based on their personal opinion,” he said, as quoted by the Bangkok Post.

SEE ALSO: UK issues travel warning ahead of Thai referendum

The referendum will determine whether Thailand will accept the charter as its new constitution.

Earlier this month, Prawit brushed off accusations that the junta was suppressing free speech, saying that the “channels were open” for critics as long as what they were saying was not “false or distorted”.

However, many of the draft charter’s detractors claim that the military government has been actively stifling any expressions of dissent against it.

SEE ALSO: Thai journalist detained while covering referendum campaign

Prawit also rubbished rumors of a growing rift between himself and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

“We haven’t had any rifts or conflicts. We may have different opinions, but they don’t constitute conflicts among us,” he said, warning any provocateurs against causing any trouble between the two.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Pic: AP.

There have been calls for Prayuth to take responsibility should the draft be rejected, but Prawit has stood by him, saying that there was no need for Prayuth to step down.

According to Prawit, the referendum was not Prayuth’s idea, but rather what was agreed upon in the 2014 interim charter after the military coup.

SEE ALSO: ‘I’m no Cameron’: Thai PM says he won’t resign if nation rejects constitution

He added that the government intended to follow through on its long-held promise to hold elections next year, regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

Former Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul recently endorsed Prawit to replace Prayuth should the draft charter be turned down.

However, in response, Prawit said that he was not suited for the job and had never entertained thoughts about becoming prime minister.

“It’s an absurd idea. Those who mentioned it must be held responsible,” he said.

Prawit is highly regarded among Thailand’s military leaders, and is even known as ‘big brother’ in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).