Watana has a point

Watana has a point

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)'s summoning of former Pheu Thai MP Watana Muangsook for criticising the draft charter does not augur well for the credibility of the charter referendum.

The trend towards suppression is most worrying coming on top of what may be viewed as an intimidation campaign by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha against politicians who voiced their disagreement with the draft constitution.

He is also upset with those who criticise the addition of a politically sensitive question in the referendum ballot on whether the appointed Senate should be allowed to vote to select the prime minister.

PM Gen Prayut reacted angrily to remarks by the country's two largest political parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, opposing certain elements in the draft charter.

The premier not only blasted politicians in general for causing conflicts plaguing the country, but also threatened those who oppose the draft charter with the prospect of arrest.

The charter referendum is still some way off, set for Aug 7.

With a sense of misgiving and distrust being developed so early on, however, the risk is high that the referendum will fail to galvanise people in the country and provide a credible consensus to move on towards lasting peace and democracy.

Although the referendum bill has been approved by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), it is yet to be enforced officially.

The Election Commission (EC), which is drafting guidelines on what can and cannot be done under the draft, has yet to come up with any regulations.

The spirit of the law appears to be clear enough, however. According to Section 62 of the referendum bill, those who publicise distorted information about the draft charter or resort to acts of aggression or intimidation to force people to vote in a certain way or to abstain altogether will be subject to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 200,000 baht.

The intention also corresponds to the objective of the public referendum itself, which is to allow people to vote either for or against a measure or legislation in a free and fair manner.

Under that philosophy, members of the public, be they academics, citizens or politicians for that matter, should be allowed to freely give their opinions about what lies ahead, as long as they are not falsified or used as part of a campaign of coercion.

Mr Watana's post on Facebook early this week, which stated his intention to reject the draft charter and why he and other politicians should be allowed to give their views for or against the law without fear of retribution, does not appear to violate the spirit of a public referendum.

The message may contain scathing remarks against the NCPO and government but it hardly qualifies as an attempt to instigate unrest as claimed by the authorities to justify his latest summons.

In fact, Mr Watana was right when he reminded the military regime in the same post that even though it is endowed with considerable power, it cannot claim to be a system of one man rule as it has to comply by the provisional charter which guarantees human rights, freedom and the pursuit of liberty to all Thais.

In all fairness, the PM would be commended if he came down from his high horse and informed the public which version of the previous charters he would pick for us should the current draft fail to be approved.

The public deserves to see all of the information related to the charter before it proceeds with its vote. Anything less would be a compromise on this most crucial step as the country struggles to return to peace.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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