Thais approve constitution

Low turnout in referendum

Thailand has voted for a new constitution drawn up by the ruling junta, preliminary results showed yesterday, despite claims by opponents that it will entrench the military's power and deepen divisions.

A running tally from the Election Commission showed that with 86 per cent of votes counted, 62 per cent voted in favour of the charter.

But turnout appeared subdued, with the number of counted ballots so far reflecting the opinions of 24 million people, in a country where more than 50 million are registered to vote.

Yesterday's referendum was the first time Thais have been able to go to the polls since the generals toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.

The military banned independent campaigning and open debate in the run-up to the vote.

The military says the new constitution will curb endemic political corruption and bring stability after the dizzying merry-go-round of recent years.

Critics say it aims to neuter civilian politicians and tighten the grip of the military - and its allies in the royalist elite - over the country.

The kingdom is split after a decade of political turmoil that has dented growth, seen democracy shunted aside and left scores dead in rival street protests.

The preliminary results starkly illustrate the kingdom's bitter geographic divide.

Only the impoverished and rural northeast - a region that has voted in droves for successive governments turfed out by the army - voted against the charter.