Politicians told to stay off Facebook

Politicians told to stay off Facebook

Online campaigns still banned, warns Prawit

The regime has warned politicians not to campaign on social media until after the organic bill on the election of MPs becomes law.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) plans to partially lift the ban on political parties engaging in activities this month, though election campaigning will still not be allowed.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday addressed the issue of social media after politicians were reported to be considering using Facebook to communicate with supporters when the political restrictions are eased this month.

Gen Prawit, also defence minister, said that parties can use social media to pay heed to people's problems but not for electioneering, which is still prohibited by the political ban, or to spread political propaganda in violation of the Computer Crimes Act.

The bill on the election of MPs is awaiting royal endorsement. It is the last of 10 organic laws that must be promulgated before the election can take place.

After it is endorsed by the King and published in the Royal Gazette, it will come into effect 90 days later. The constitution requires an election to be held within 150 days of that date.

The government has earlier indicated that limited activities to be permitted after the easing of the ban would include holding meetings to select party executives and recruit members; giving their opinions on the demarcation of constituencies; conducting primary votes to choose election candidates; and contacting party members.

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said yesterday that politicians need to speak to the people, though he agreed that they must not be allowed to incite unrest or slander others.

"Gen Prawit must define the scope of what is permitted and what is not. But it should not go so far as stopping anyone from communicating on social media. It will be a retrograde step, compared to our neighbouring countries. What should be banned are acts or remarks that will provoke violence," Mr Nipit said.

Somkid Chuakong, a former Pheu Thai MP for Ubon Ratchathani, criticised the regime for retaining the ban on parties using social media.

He said social media is the cheapest method of electioneering and people should be allowed to use their own judgement regarding what they read online.

"The government boasts about Thailand 4.0 and steering the nation into the digital era. It's wrong to let the country slip back to the age of dinosaurs.

"As the general election, which is tentatively set for Feb 24, comes into focus, the political ban should be totally lifted so people can exchange their views openly," Mr Somkid said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday revealed that the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), the governing body of the Thai clergy, has issued an announcement banning election campaigning on temple premises.

The announcement was signed by the Supreme Patriarch, chairman of the SSC, on Thursday.

Senior monks holding governing roles in the monastic hierarchy must see to it that monks and novices stay away from politics, the announcement said.

Mr Wissanu said that election campaigns on temples' premises were usually banned in past elections, and the fresh SSC announcement just serves as a reminder.

Meanwhile, New Palang Dhamma Party leader Ravee Machamadol spoke out against a proposal for a limited version of the primary vote, where a handful of political party members are represented in nominating MP candidates.

"If the NCPO is concerned that new political parties have little time to conduct primaries, it should delay the poll from Feb 24 to May 5 next year which is still within the 150-day time frame," Dr Ravee said.

The primaries which are being considered by the government have drawn criticism from academics and parties who say the plan cuts out many steps in the candidature process.

But it also means the power to select MP candidates reverts to the party executive board, which is not consistent with the spirit of the constitution, say critics.

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