PM warns of scrutiny

politics August 11, 2017 01:00


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Yingluck supporters to face questions; Weng predicts action may backfire.

WHILE MAINTAINING that the movements of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s supporters will not be restricted, the government seems to be trying to undermine her support base ahead of the Supreme Court verdict in the case stemming from her government’s rice-pledging scheme.

Authorities have already taken action against those viewed as Yingluck’s allies; Peace TV, a satellite-based station run by red-shirt leaders, was suspended for 30 days by an order of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

In a related development, the Auditor-General’s Office earlier this month informed the ministers of interior and defence in writing the agency had learned that local administrative organisations had misused their budgets by funding trips to Bangkok for “hidden” political motives. In the letter, the agency asked the two ministers to order state agencies under their supervision to help prevent the misuse of state funds.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday security officials would be instructed to ask people gathering in support of Yingluck whether they knew why they were attending the event and whether they had travelled on their own or were mobilised in large groups.

Hundreds of Yingluck’s supporters gathered at the Supreme Court building during the hearings by its Criminal Division for Political Office Holders in her trial for negligence in managing the rice-pledging scheme. Yingluck is accused of failing to end the scheme despite warnings about irregularities. 

Thousands of supporters are expected to show up when the court delivers its verdict on August 25.

There have been allegations that free transport is being provided for people to travel from the provinces to Bangkok.

Prayut said Yingluck’s supporters would be allowed but they must not violate the law, express contempt for the court, create chaos, violate other peoples’ rights or cause traffic congestion.

“I am not barring their movements. I know there are people who love [Yingluck]. If they want to go [to the court], then go, but don’t go because you are hired to do so,” he said. 

Yingluck also has the right to go wherever she wants and she can express her opinions on social media, he added.

The prime minister yesterday denied ordering the NBTC to have Peace TV pulled off the air, as observers viewed the suspension of the red-shirt channel as an attempt to choke support for Yingluck.

Prayut said if the suspension order against Peace TV had anything to do with the August 25 verdict reading, then “all the media” should have been ordered closed. 

He added that the channel had violated the NBTC’s regulations and that the suspension had nothing to do with politics. 

“Do I have to instruct them [the NBTC] on everything? They did their job. If they don’t, they would be deemed negligent of their duty,” he said.

In ordering the suspension of Peace TV’s broadcasts, the NBTC said two programmes it aired last month featured content “deemed intended to overthrow the constitutional monarchy system and affect national security, public order and good public morals”.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday that Peace TV’s suspension came after the station attacked the government.

He also said he had heard people would be brought from the provinces in large numbers to support Yingluck.

‘Bullying could increase turnout’

Meanwhile, Weng Tojirakarn, a red-shirt leader and key presenter on Peace TV, yesterday accused the ruling junta of being behind the suspension order. He said the station was always singled out when “politics reached a climax”.

Weng, who is also a Pheu Thai Party politician, said he believed the move was prompted by the upcoming court verdict, which will dictate Yingluck’s fate and could potentially have a massive effect on politics.

“Last time we got banned for 30 days during the lead-up to the referendum on the constitutional draft. And we were reopened after the vote was completed,” the activist told The Nation.

He said such a move harmed not only freedom of expression but also the right of people to information. “If there’s anything wrong with the programmes, then they should take legal action instead of suspending broadcasts of the whole station,” he added.

The latest action against the red-shirt mouthpiece reflected the ruling regime’s deep fear and anxiety, Weng said, but he added that the his group had no intention of causing turbulence and they always respected the court as well as the rule of law. 

He said moves to suppress Yingluck’s supporters could backfire against people in power as more people might be tempted to show up given what they see as injustice perpetrated on their friends and favoured politicians.

“The powers-that-be should just let the people do as they like. During the court hearings, people showed up on their own and there were no problems at all,” Weng said. “If people see that their comrades are bullied, they may feel the urge to turn out in even greater numbers.”