1037 GMT September 22, 2019
Polls opened nationwide at 8 am local time (0100 GMT) on Sunday.
The country’s military rulers, who came to power in 2014, abolished the previous constitution and set up a committee to draft the new one.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the commander of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), heads the junta. His 2014 coup d'état came after months of political instability and sporadic violence.
The proponents of the new constitution claim it will end political corruption and bring democracy and stability to the country.
Independent sources, however, say the constitution, if approved, will reinforce the military control over the country and weaken the influence of civilians in politics.
“If the draft constitution passes… the military and the traditional elites will have more legitimacy to control the Thai political system,” said Puangthong Pawakapan, a political expert at Chulalongkorn University.
The Thai military has successfully seized power a dozen times since the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand in 1932.
During the past decade, power has been shifting between a royalist army and its establishment allies on the one side and elected governments led by or linked to self-exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra on the other.
General Prayut was appointed by the country’s 88-year-old monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to run the country following the latest coup against Shinawatra’s sister and then-prime minister Yingluck.
Also on Sunday, Prayut, who has been named the country’s new prime minister, urged people to participate in the referendum.
“Come out (to vote) because today is important for the future of the country. This is your duty and this is part of democracy of an internationally-recognized process,” he said.
Thaksin has described the new constitution as a “folly” that would strengthen the power of the ruling junta and make it impossible for future elected governments to govern the country.
Meanwhile, at least 10 bomb explosions were reported in the restive Thai provinces of Narathiwat and Yala overnight.
“The bombs, which targeted lamp posts, caused several areas to be without electricity and knocked out communications system,” police reported, adding that there were no casualties.
A day earlier, police had reported six explosions in southern Thailand.
It is unclear who is behind the blasts, but the ruling junta blames such violence on the insurgents active in the restive south.
Three provinces in southern Thailand, namely Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani, have faced an insurgency since 2004. The violence sometimes spreads into the province of Songkhla as well.