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Thailand approves changes to constitution on king powers

Thailand approves changes to constitution on king powers

BANGKOK — Thailand's military-ruled legislature on Friday approved constitutional changes desired by the newly enthroned king that would reserve more powers for him.

One change made by the National Legislative Assembly allows King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun to decide whether or not to appoint a regent when he travels outside the country. Vajiralongkorn travelled frequently to Germany, where he maintains a residence, before becoming king in December.

The constitution previously stated that if no regent was appointed, the head of the Privy Council — the king's advisory body — would become regent. The amendment effectively keeps royal power in the hands of the king or a trusted confidante when he is abroad.

A second amendment makes it easier to implement the king's desired changes in a new constitution that was approved in a referendum last August. The government says the changes solely concern royal powers. Vajiralongkorn's approval is needed for the new constitution to be implemented.

Friday's changes were made to an interim constitution enacted in 2014 after the military ousted an elected government in a coup d'etat. It is unclear why Vajiralongkorn is seeking changes in the new constitution, but it suggests that he has not yet settled his relationship with the military.

Vajiralongkorn took the throne on Dec. 2 following the death of his father King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct. 13. Privy Council head Prem Tinisulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister who was a close adviser to Bhumibol, served as regent during the month before Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father.

Until Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced earlier this week that the king desired some changes, there was concern that the new constitution might have to be totally scrapped, because it was uncertain that the king would approve it by a Feb. 6 deadline. The deadline is extended under the new rules, which call for experts to write the new amendments, which will then be reviewed by the king.

The changes raise anew the possibility that the government will not meet its avowed deadline to hold a general election by the end of this year. It has already let several previously declared deadlines slip.

The Associated Press

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