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Jul 27, 10:07 AM EDT

Ex-Thai PM opposes army-proposed constitution up for vote

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BANGKOK (AP) -- The head of Thailand's oldest political party on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of voices opposed to a new constitution proposed by the military government.

Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he spoke as Democrat Party leader, but that his remarks should not be taken as the party's official stand because the government bans political party meetings. It also has decreed strict limits on criticizing its draft charter, which will be submitted to an Aug. 7 referendum.

Among the reasons Abhisit said he opposed the charter were that it limited people's liberties and failed to establish an effective mechanism for fighting corruption.

The Democrats' political rival, the Pheu Thai Party, which was ousted from power by the army in 2014, also opposes the charter.

The Democrats share the army's antipathy toward Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and disrespect for the country's king and ousted in a 2006 military coup. The ouster set off a sharp and sometimes bloody contest for power between Thaksin's supporters and opponents.

Thaksin, in exile since 2008, is Pheu Thai's de facto leader. His sister Yingluck Shinawtra was elected prime minister in 2011, but forced from the post in 2014 shortly before the army staged another takeover.

Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised an election next year if the draft constitution is passed. He has not given a clear indication what will happen if referendum voters reject it.

"Everyone in the country wants the nation to move forward," said Abhisit, who employed the army to quash violent protests by Thaksin's partisans in 2010. "Conflict within the country has made our country unable to move forward and progress, resulting in our citizens living in poor conditions and in debt because of the political turmoil that has halted our nation's development."

In the months leading up to the referendum, Prayuth's government has increasingly moved to silence opponents of the draft constitution with a draconian law that carries a 10-year prison sentence for misrepresenting the charter, rudely criticizing its content or disrupting the vote.

"The fact that I will not accept this draft constitution does not mean that I am trying to create chaos for my country," Abhisit said.

"I implore the people to look at the draft and make an educated decision based on it," he said. "I ask the government to bring out a new draft constitution that is better for the people. If this draft does not pass, I hope Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will explore and take into consideration the reasons why it did not pass."

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