BANGKOK, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- Thais across the country are casting their ballots in the referendum on the 2016 draft constitution and additional question that began at 8 a.m. (0100 GMT) Sunday as planned, while a general election in 2017 is promised by the current government no matter what the outcome will be.
The voting process will last for 8 hours as all 94,000 polling stations will be closed for voting at 4 p.m. (0900 GMT). The unofficial results will be known before 9 p.m. (1400 GMT), according to the Election Commission.
This is the second ever referendum in Thai history, following the last referendum in 2007. Around 50.5 million Thais out of the total population of 65 million are eligible to vote this time, compared with 45 million eligible in the 2007 referendum. The Election Commission set a goal of 80 percent turnout, compared with the 57.61 percent turnout in 2007.
On the ballot there are two questions, the first being "Do you accept the 2016 draft of the constitution?," and the second being "In order to reform the country continuously according to the strategy, should the Senate be allowed to join the House of Representatives in the voting process to select a prime minister for the first five-year period after the first National Assembly is formed under this constitution?"
Once passed, the draft constitution will be the 20th constitution since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 and there will be a general election in 2017 according to the junta's roadmap, as it is mentioned by the junta leaders.
And for the additional question, or the second question, if passed, its result will be added into the Transitory Provisions of the constitution and thus give 250 senators picked by the current junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order, power to elect a prime minister along with 500 elected members of House of Representatives.
If the draft is voted down along with the additional questions, there have to be a new draft constitution before a general election, according to Prayut Chan-o-cha, current Thai prime minister and leader of the NCPO, but he said earlier that there would be a general election next year regardless of the outcome.
"In such occasion, the NCPO and the current government may find it hard to draft a new constitution similar to the current one, and especially contents that being largely criticized (might not be included in the new one)," Said Lompianthit, a columnist for Thai media Thairath.
"No matter what the outcome will be, the NCPO and the government will declare its plan for everything to go forward smoothly,"Said Prayut on Friday, adding that he had no plan to prolong power.
He mentioned earlier that a joint meeting between his cabinet and the NCPO will be held next Tuesday to determine their future plans.
YES OR NO?
The 105-page draft constitution consists of 16 charters and the Transitory Provisions, or 279 sections. Though it contains strong provisions on healthcare and education, people have different opinions regarding its contents about the national assembly, the election of a new prime minister, the constitutional court, and counter corruption mechanism.
Prayut said on Friday that he would vote yes to both question and encouraged people to join the voting on Sunday.
Suthep Thaugsuban, who led the protest against Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party government from 2013 to 2014 that paved the way for the 2014 coup, expressed his strong support to the draft constitution and called it an anti-corruption one and said it will help to reform the country.
The draft constitution was always said to be an anti-corruption one by its supporters as it bans any fired for corruption from politics and bestowed great powers upon a nine-member National Counter Corruption Commission.
But its mechanism to combat corruption is attacked Pheu Thai Party and prominent figures from Democrat Party.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, former prime minister and current leader of Democrat Party said the draft constitution has big defects in combating corruption.
Pheu Thai Party said the draft exempts the NCPO from any punishments, which is not fair.
On the other hand, Abhisit also said the draft cannot help to ease political and social conflict but trigger even more serious conflict, primarily due to the lessened roles of the elected politicians.
Pheu Thai party also said pointed out any reasons that they are against it, such as too much curtailment of administrative officials and bestows too much power to the Constitution Court and any independent organizations, the proposed election mechanism will generate a multiparty government which is not stable enough to run the country, and a special chapter on the amendment of the constitution, which makes the amendment nearly impossible.
According to reports, former primer Thaksin Shinawatra on Thursday commented on the draft, saying "The drafters ... created a constitution for the 'continuity' of the absolute power of the present coup makers to continue even after the new constitution is proclaimed."
Thailand held a referendum on a draft constitution in 2007 after the 2006 military coup that toppled Thaksin's government.
The draft then passed by 57 percent approval and later became the 2007 constitution, under which Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party won the general election in 2011.
But her government was again toppled by a military coup in 2014 and the 2007 constitution was repealed and replaced by the 2014 interim constitution.