It's 'no' joking matter ahead of charter vote
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It's 'no' joking matter ahead of charter vote

Officials see 'No' everywhere they look, and seem to think it's a great conspiracy about the referendum scheduled for Aug 7. (Images from advertisements)
Officials see 'No' everywhere they look, and seem to think it's a great conspiracy about the referendum scheduled for Aug 7. (Images from advertisements)

If I were the military regime, I would be worried.

Not only must the army run after children and macaques which found pink-coloured lists of eligible voters for the Aug 7 referendum irresistibly tear-able, but they may also have to work harder to censor any signs, symbols, trademarks or logos bearing the word "no" which could be interpreted as part of a campaign to reject the draft charter.

And how many instances of "no" in names can be interpreted as intended to persuade voters to reject the draft charter -- Americano? Casino? Onono?

Now the regime must also contend with the Thammasat law lecturer, newly appointed professor and leader of the Nitirat group, Worachet Pakeerut, who seemed to have injected renewed hope and confidence into the anti-coup movement in his critique of the draft charter on Sunday.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Less than two weeks from the referendum, strange things keep happening.

Last week, there was the case of two eight-year-old girls in Kamphaeng Phet who tore lists of eligible voters for the referendum, not knowing their relevance. The girls reportedly said they found the lists pretty as they were printed on pink paper.

Although the girls were exempted from prosecution for destroying state property because they are under 10 years old and apparently had no intention of committing the offence, the superintendent of the police district where the incident occurred was transferred for failing to report the incident to superiors.

The director of the province's Election Commission office insisted on filing charges against the two girls. The EC official said he risked being charged for negligence if he failed to report the girls. He will leave it up to the police and state attorney to see if they want to pursue the case.

All the while, the Kamphaeng Phet police chief has insisted the girls will not be punished.

The eccentricity of seeing a couple of eight-year-old girls being sued by the state for what appeared to be literally child's play hadn't faded when for reasons probably known only to them, some 100 monkeys stormed into a polling station in Phichit and ripped up the province's lists of referendum voters and other related documents.

Police were sent to investigate the incident. It's not known yet whether the EC will feel obliged to file charges against the marauding monkeys.

On the same day of the monkey attack in Phichit, officials at a referendum peace-keeping office in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket were alerted to a possible threat: 47 white flags spelling out Gano, which could be read as "Mark No", were planted along two sides of a road covering a distance of about 200 metres.

The officials informed the governor that the flags could be an attempt to sabotage the referendum. The governor therefore ordered that the flags be collected and a complaint filed with police.

After an investigation, however, it turned out the flags were put up by an agent of direct sales coffee firm Gano to direct his staff to a meeting place. The signs had nothing to do with the charter referendum, the agent said. Determining the Gano signs could be deemed "sensitive" during the last leg before the charter vote, however, the governor ordered they be kept away and not displayed in public.

Predictably, news spread that anything that included the word "no" in it has become a weapon of mass destruction for draft charter opponents.

Some have taken to posting Ringo Starr's The No-No Song. Others pointed to an anti-inflammation medicine called Ganospec 500 and a Gano soap while joking whether coffee chains will be barred from selling cups of Americano during this "sensitive" period leading to the charter vote.

As the "no" camp has a field day rousing its base, authorities are struggling to explain the draft charter to voters. Politicians and civil society groups complained that the public currently have little information about the draft and they may not be able to make an informed choice on Aug 7.

The government has also held back on allowing open debates on the draft even as accusations of distortions fly around from both its supporters and opponents. Amid the confusion, it was Nitirat group leader Mr Worachet who stole the show not just for explaining clearly how the draft charter is undemocratic but also for rekindling the fight for democracy and rule of law that seems to have weakened after years of repression.

If the regime was watching how people reacted to Mr Worachet's speech -- the standing ovation and cheers -- it should be worried, very worried.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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