THAILAND’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed the military junta’s new constitution on Thursday, less than a day after a bomb exploded in Bangkok.
In a nationwide broadcast, he was seen signing the constitution, giving it royal endorsement and setting in motion a process for Thailand‘s next general election, expected late next year.
The constitution is Thailand‘s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and critics of army rule say it will still give the generals a powerful say over Thai politics for years, if not decades.
The constitution is now due to be published in the Royal Gazette, after which it becomes law.
King Vajiralongkorn has asserted his authority on many fronts since taking the throne in December after the death of his widely-revered father. As well as changes within the palace, he requested constitutional changes to which the junta agreed.
On Tuesday, the Royal Gazette stated the King had offered his blessing for 2017 constitution and was scheduled to sign it on Thursday.
The country’s military-led government, the so-called National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), implemented an interim Constitution in 2014. The junta promised to restore order and pave the way for a return to democracy.
Nevertheless, in mid-March the junta briefed the media on its “20-Year National Strategy”, a programme which all future governments will be required by the law to follow.
Observers believe the military is shoring up its power rather than planning for transition to civilian government, with last August’s referendum on the constitution ensuring “a role for the military for years if not decades to come.”
Late on Wednesday night, a small pipe bomb was detonated near the Democracy Monument in the Thai capital injuring several people. The bomb blast was the first in Bangkok since 20 people were killed in an attack on the Erawan Shrine in 2015.
The United Nations recently raised concern hundreds of people had been jailed by the military since its 2014 coup, violating the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.
Thai authorities recently arrested a number of anti-junta activists for the possession of an arms stash, who police claimed was part of a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee this is not to shoot at birds, but was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country,” national police chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters.
Several coordinated attacks took place at resort sites in Thailand – a country heavily reliant upon tourism – last year, just days after a referendum approved the new constitution. Campaigners had been barred from criticising the text prior to the vote.
The Thai government has not specified who it believes was behind the bombings and no group claimed responsibility.
***Additional reporting by Reuters