World Bulletin / News Desk
Opponents of Thailand’s military regime have criticized “monitoring centers” set up to oversee an upcoming constitutional referendum as a tactic to influence voters and manipulate results, local media reported Monday.
The military government’s initiative was launched just two weeks after the junta blocked similar centers proposed by such critics.
A leader of the “Red Shirts” -- a political movement supporting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and opposing a May 2014 coup against his sister Yingluck, also an ousted premier -- disputed that the government had the right to establish such centers simply “because it has the power”.
Nattawut Saikuar told the Bangkok Post that the centers proposed by junta opponents, on the other hand, “are not about power, but about civil rights and liberties”.
Korkaew Pikulthong, another Red Shirt leader, also insisted that authorities in power tend to be those who cheat.
“The peace keeping centers would be seen for what they are and would not be accepted by the public,” he told the Post.
The military government set up the “peace-keeping centers” at district and provincial levels starting from July 1 ahead of the Aug. 7 vote.
According to a briefing Sunday by government spokesman Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the centers will be in charge of preventing “activities which may violate the referendum law” and “enforcing public order”.
“Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has made it clear that fraud or obstructions to the referendum will not be allowed so the people can make a decision and cast their vote freely,” he told local media.
Article 61 of the referendum law prohibits “publication of false information” by any media that might influence the public’s votes, and bars people from “spreading information in a violent, aggressive, vulgar or coercive manner”.
Those accused of breaking these rules are liable to a maximum jail term of 10 years.
On June 23, 13 student activists were arrested under article 61 in Samut Prakan province, east of Bangkok, for distributing campaign materials urging citizens to vote “no” in the referendum.
They were also charged with violating a ban on political gatherings of more than five people.
Six of them have been released on bail, but seven others refused the bail conditions and remain detained at a Bangkok remand prison.
On July 30, a group of lawmakers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human rights (APHR), called for their release and criticized the strict referendum law.
“These arrests underline the absurdity of the rules surrounding the upcoming referendum,” Charles Santiago, a Malaysian MP and APHR leader, said in a statement.
“These individuals were trying to promote responsible civic engagement, working to inform the public about the draft constitution. It just underscores the junta’s apparent desire to shut down all debate and force feed this charter to the Thai people,” he added.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), the official name of the Red Shirts, had attempted to set up its own electoral fraud monitoring centers June 19, but the junta deployed anti-riot police to thwart their launch, saying the initiative was illegal and “politically motivated”.
“In deploying police, the National Council for Peace and Order can take over the place and pull down the center’s sign,” another UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan said at the time, referring to the junta by its official name.
“But the people will continue with their mission toward democracy without fear,” he had underlined.
The draft constitution has been criticized by party leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as by academics and media. The draft allows for a senate fully-appointed by the junta and for a non-elected “outsider” to become prime minister.
Junta opponents fear that such a system will allow a military officer or a civilian acting on behalf of the military to become premier.Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Temmuz 2016, 09:52