[JURIST] Tens of thousands of people marched in Thailand Monday in support of an upcoming general referendum on whether to approve the interim government's proposed draft constitution [JURIST report]. The march, organized by interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont [official profile; BBC profile], is an effort to promote popular support for the draft proposal before the August 19 referendum. Surayud, who came to power after last September's coup [JURIST report], urged voters to participate in the referendum, calling it a way for the people to assert their rights and help decide Thailand's future. Anti-coup activists and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile] have opposed the draft constitution, saying it decreases populist influence and transfers more power to bureaucrats and the military. Critics have also alleged that martial law, which remains in effect in predominately rural areas where Thaksin enjoyed popular support, has prevented the opposition from campaigning on its objections to the draft.
Under the proposal, the Thai House of Representatives will be reduced from 500 seats to 400 seats, 320 of which will be directly elected and 80 appointed from the party list. Direct elections for members of the Senate will also be abolished, with national and provisional committees composed of bureaucrats and judicial officials instead appointing the 150 senators. If approved, the constitution will possibly pave the way for general elections in December. If the draft constitution is rejected by popular referendum, military leaders are authorized under the interim constitution [JURIST report] to revise an earlier constitution. AFP has more.