Thailand begins voting in a referendum on a new constitution, written by a military-appointed committee.
The military government threw out the old constitution when it took power in 2014, after months of political instability and sporadic violence in the country.
It says that if approved, the new constitution will be a major step towards returning to full democracy.
However, opponents call the vote unfair as campaigning has been restricted.
The Referendum Act, brought in to govern the referendum process, criminalizes “anyone who disseminates text, pictures or sounds that are inconsistent with the truth”.
Rights groups have said that the new law “restricts expression and access to information about the draft constitution”.
Offenders face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Dozens of people have been charged in connection with the referendum.
Independent election observer groups have requested accreditation to monitor the vote, but this has not been granted by the Election Commission.
The 40 million voters will answer yes or no to the question: Do you accept the draft constitution? They will also be asked a supplementary question, whether or not the appointed senate should be allowed to join the lower house in selecting a prime minister.
If the majority of voters say yes, the draft becomes the constitution, enhancing the military government’s legitimacy in the run-up to an election which PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the 2014 coup, has promised will happen next year.
If the constitution does not pass, what will happen is uncertain, but the military government will remain in control.
The junta argues that corrupt politicians are to blame for the last decade of instability and divisive politics.
Made public in March, the draft constitution proposes a voting system which would make it difficult for a single political party to win a majority of seats in the lower house.
One of the most controversial clauses calls for the 250-seat senate to be fully appointed by the military government.
Before the coup, just over half of the upper house seats were directly elected and the rest were appointed.
Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been named the new prime minister of Thailand.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, 60, was nominated on August 21 in a legislature hand-picked by the junta and made up of mostly military and police figures.
The general was the head of the army when he led a dramatic coup in May.
It followed months of intense political deadlock between Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and opposition parties that resulted in protests and clashes.
Prayuth Chan-ocha was chosen after all 197 members of Thailand’s National Assembly cast their votes on Thursday morning.
The vote in Parliament was little more than a formality, lasting just 15 minutes, as Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was the only candidate.
The assembly’s choice is expected to be approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej later.
Although his role is meant to be an interim one as Prayuth Chn-ocha plans to hold a general election in late 2015.
Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been named the new prime minister of Thailand (photo AP)
He now wields enormous power and also still heads the military junta.
Prayuth Chn-ocha is expected to pick his new cabinet soon.
He has promised a root and branch reform of politics to prevent a return to the turmoil of recent years, offering a possible restoration of democratic rule next year.
However, critics believe his real priority is to destroy the political party of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, which has won every election for the past 14 years, and to secure a delicate royal succession.
Such goals would require a much longer democratic timetable.
Concerns have mounted that the military is seeking to strengthen its hold on the country.
Besides hand-picking the national assembly, the junta issued an interim constitution in July that gives the military sweeping powers.
It is appointing a national reform council that would help to come up with a permanent constitution that would take effect by July 2015.
Prayuth Chan-ocha and junta officials have argued that military rule has brought stability to Thailand following months of violent protests between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps.
Thai coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has received royal endorsement at a ceremony in the capital, Bangkok, after taking power in a coup last week.
Prayuth Chan-ocha was formally appointed to run the nation at the army headquarters.
The 86-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, did not attend the ceremony.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha has received royal endorsement at a ceremony in Bangkok
The military seized power in the South East Asian nation last week, saying it planned to return stability to Thailand after months of unrest.
The move followed six months of political deadlock as protesters tried to oust the government of PM Yingluck Shinawatra. At least 28 people were killed and several hundred injured over the course of the protests.
But the coup – which removed an elected government – has drawn widespread international criticism.
Small anti-coup protests took place in Bangkok over the weekend, despite a military ban on gatherings of more than five people.
Experts have also warned that the coup is unlikely to heal divisions in a nation in which politics have become highly polarized.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, dressed in white military uniform, received the royal endorsement on Monday morning.
“To restore peace and order in the country and for sake of unity, the king appointed General Prayuth Chan-ocha as head of the National Council of Peace and Order to run the country,” the royal command seen by AFP news agency said.
The monarchy is highly respected and royal endorsement is seen as key to legitimizing the takeover.
Speaking afterwards, Prayuth Chan-ocha said the most important thing was “to keep peace and order in the country”.
Elections would take place as soon as possible, he said, but gave no timeframe. He also said he would have no choice but to use force if protests continued.
The ruling junta is expected to set up a national legislative assembly that will draw up a temporary constitution with a new prime minister.
Since taking power, the military has summoned and detained dozens of key political figures, including Yingluck Shinawatra. Journalists and academics are also among those who have been called in.
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