By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) – A state-run newspaper in Myanmar said on Friday neighboring Thailand risked “sub-standard” democracy if a military-backed draft constitution is approved in a referendum this weekend.
For decades Myanmar suffered economic stagnation under harsh military rule while Thailand was seen as an Asian “tiger” economy with extensive freedoms and a developing democracy.
But the tables have turned recently, at least to some extent, with Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi winning a landmark election last year while Thailand has been ruled by a military government tough on dissent since a 2014 coup.
But the militaries in both countries still play significant political roles.
Thailand holds a referendum on Sunday on a new constitution that critics say would enshrine military supervision over elected governments.
“If the draft of the constitution in Thailand were to be approved in the upcoming referendum, the democracy in that country would become sub-standard and limited,” the state-owned Myanma Alinn Daily said in an editorial.
Thai political parties and organizations opposed the bill, saying democracy was best, said the newspaper, which is run by the Ministry of Information and rarely comments on politics in other countries.
Zaw Htay, a spokesman for Suu Kyi, asked if the editorial reflected the government’s official position, referred questions to the Ministry of Information.
A senior ministry official, who declined to be identified, said of the newspaper: “As we all know, it is run by the government.”
The official did not elaborate.
Myanmar emerged from decades of military rule in 2011 to a semi-civilian system and Suu Kyi’s party won the November election, but the armed forces retain significant political power through a constitution the military drafted in 2008.
The Myanmar constitution bars Suu Kyi for becoming president because her two sons are British.
She has been trying to change it but the military has resisted her efforts.
Suu Kyi visited Thailand in June but did not publicly address its turbulent politics.
She, and many members of her National League for Democracy, were put under house arrest and imprisoned for speaking out against Myanmar’s former junta.
Myanmar’s military, which views itself as the only institution capable of holding together a nation that has been plagued by decades of civil wars, retains ultimate control over politics with 25 percent of seats in parliament.
Under Thailand’s proposed charter an appointed Senate with seats reserved for military commanders would check the powers of elected lawmakers.
The editorial stopped short of urging Thai voters to reject the draft constitution.
(Editing by Timothy Mclaughlin, Robert Birsel)