Junta rejects changes to referendum law

national May 24, 2016 01:00


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Vague warning that the 2017 election will be postponed if charter rejected.

THE JUNTA yesterday rejected calls for amendments to the referendum law and the easing of the ban on political party meetings in the run-up to the vote on the draft constitution.
Key figures in the military-led government said no revisions would be made to the relevant laws as there were “no sufficient reasons to warrant changes”.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday insisted the Election Commission (EC) would organise public forums for people to express their viewpoints on the draft constitution. 
He rejected political groups’ requests for an easing of the party assembly ban. 
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam warned that next year’s general election could be delayed if the draft constitution fails to pass the August 7 referendum. Prawit said the regime had always been open to people expressing opinions. 
“What more do you want? The referendum law has already been enacted,” he said, adding that having the EC forums in the run-up to the vote were “already an appropriate method”.
Wissanu reiterated the National Council for Peace and Order’s ban on assemblies by political parties and certain clauses in the referendum law deemed ambiguous by critics would not be amended. He cited an earlier remark by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the same effect. 
“General Prayut said there would not be any amendment. The government doesn’t consider any revision. You don’t need to amend the law to ensure understanding,” he said. 
Wissanu said the clauses in question – which regard the prohibition of spreading false, aggressive, rude, provocative or intimidating messages concerning the charter and the plebiscite – only had an “interpretation problem”. 
“There is no way to make it any clearer,” Wissanu said. 
EC legal commissioners are overseeing the issue, he said, adding that there was no reason to amend the law if everyone understands that it is correct. 
“What’s important is intention and attitude. If [you] do not stir up unrest or intend to cause trouble then nobody can do anything to [you],” he added. 
If the charter is voted down, it will be rewritten, he said. “I don’t know what else to say,” he added. 
However, he declined to exactly specify the process by which a new charter would be written, with possible options including combining existing chapters or setting up a new drafting panel. 
However, he said, the government believes the charter draft will be passed in the August 7 referendum. 
Wissanu said he would not be specific about the 2017 election’s date being postponed if the constitution is rejected. “It is like the inquirers are forcing [information] from me because you have something in your mind. But the road map has always been emphasised and it is specific. If the draft passes the plebiscite, the [election] is inevitable anyway,” he said. 
Govt distortion alleged
Meanwhile, a representative of the Islamic Public Schools Association filed a complaint with the EC against Government Spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd for potentially distorting the charter draft and persuading voters to vote in a particular way.
The petitioner cited Sansern as saying the prime minister had ordered the Education Ministry to come up with a law ensuring free education from the first to 12th grades, when the constitution draft says the state must provide education for children until ninth grade. 
He urged the EC to look into the case to determine whether Sansern violated Article 61 of the referendum law, which prohibits any distortion of the charter draft and attempt to persuade someone how to vote.
Meanwhile, Prayut warned that the absence of the interim charter’s Article 44 could pose “great danger” to the country, claiming his use of broad powers under the article could exonerate wrongdoers of guilt if |their cases were not considered too severe.
He said wrongdoers would have to “fight much harder” if facing normal laws. “Please tolerate [the article] for now. Don’t believe everything you may have heard,” he said during a government-hosted seminar.
“Police and military are now filing [charges] against those who say wrong things. They will all be prosecuted.” 
He also denied the junta could wield hidden powers through the charter provision that would allow it to select 250 senators. 
“They will only be there to ensure that we won’t return to chaos,” he said. “This draft will guarantee our status in the international community.” 

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