Ex-Thai PM flaunts popularity in political heartland

Ex-Thai PM flaunts popularity in political heartland

Trip to country's northeast comes months before generals overthrew her government try to bring in new constitution

By Max Constant

BANGKOK (AA) - Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is flaunting her popularity under the gaze of the kingdom's generals, months before a referendum in which they seek to bring in a draft charter of the new constitution.

On Tuesday, Yingluck toured the heartland of her political clan -- the second day of a tour of the rural northeast. She posed for pictures in traditional garb near paddy fields, threw her arms around young supporters, but she avoided any mention of politics.

“The Doket beach and Lampao dam are two reasons why my friends pushed me to visit the province of Kalasin,” Yingluck wrote Tuesday on her Facebook page, referring to the northeastern province long seen as Thailand's poorest region.

The post was accompanied by numerous images of her in traditional northeastern dress, being greeted by enthusiastic villagers and visiting schools and local handicraft shops.

The images stand in stark contrast to the daily pictures of ruling generals, the junta leader-cum-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan shown on national television.

From behind the screens, those who overthrew Yingluck's government in 2014 scold reporters and bemoan critics of their policies.

On Aug. 7, Thais go to the polls to vote on a junta-sponsored draft charter of the country's first constitution to be inaugurated after the coup

Politicians for Thailand’s main political parties have slammed it as “illiberal”, underlining that is does not attempt to involve the people in the process.

If the draft charter, written by a junta-appointed committee of legal experts, passes the referendum, elections should take place at the end of 2017.

But if it is rejected, Chan-ocha has threatened that the constitutional process will start from scratch, which would push back elections back by at least another year.

The most controversial provisions of the charter are the possibility of a non-elected person becoming prime minister and the establishment of a 250 member Senate, fully appointed by the junta and with a five-year mandate.

On Sunday -- the second anniversary of the May 22, 2014 coup -- Yingluck did mention politics, calling on the junta to “return power to the people”.

“I can only hope that the National Council for Peace and Order [the NCPO, the official name of the junta] will keep its promises,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

She also raised a question.

“[Have] unity and legitimacy have been created for all concerned in the right direction?" she asked.

"I hope that the NCPO will step up its efforts to carry out reforms towards true democracy."

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