Move Forward slams holiday booze ban
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Move Forward slams holiday booze ban

Says curbs go against country's constitution

The ban on the sales of alcoholic beverages during Buddhist holidays has sparked a heated debate between advocates and critics of the law -- including the Move Forward Party, which is campaigning for the end of the ban.

MFP key figures have voiced their opposition to the ban, calling it an unnecessary restriction on individual freedom.

Party executive, Amarat Chokpamitkul, took to social media yesterday to express her disagreement with the ban, which was enforced on Saturday to honour Vesak, also known as Visakha Bucha Day, which marks the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing.

According to Ms Amarat, banning the sale of alcoholic beverages on Buddhist holidays goes against the nation's constitution, which also guarantees the people's right to belong to religions other than Buddhism.

Since many other religions do not frown upon the consumption of alcoholic beverages the way Buddhism does, the ban encroaches on their freedom to choose what's best for themselves, she said.

Under current regulations, those who violate the ban could face up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 10,000 baht.

There are five Buddhist holidays in every calendar year during which the sale of alcoholic beverages are prohibited, namely Makha Bucha Day, Visakha Bucha Day, Asarnha Bucha Day, as well as the start and end of Buddhist Lent.

Ms Amarat said such a ban isn't common in other countries, before urging authorities to strictly enforce other rules to prevent alcohol-related accidents, such as the drink-driving law.

Similarly, MFP MP-elect for Bangkok Taopiphop Limjittrakorn wrote on Facebook saying that basing the ban on a religious belief affects freedom of religion and occupation under the constitution.

However, Songkran Pakchokdee, director of the StopDrink Network Office, a temperance group, said yesterday Thailand's ban on alcohol sales on Buddhist holidays is in line with the guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

"The ban restricts access to places where alcohol can be bought and sold, not its consumption. People can still stock up in advance for consumption at their homes, anyway," he said.

"No one has ever kicked up a fuss about the matter until now," Mr Songkran said.

He said the group isn't opposed to the MFP's progressive liquor policy, but it disagrees with any bill which seeks to lift restrictions of alcohol advertising.

In response to Ms Amarat's call for the lifting of the alcohol ban, Phetchawat Wattanapongsirikul, a list-MP candidate for the Pheu Thai Party, said the ban should be retained as it helps prevent road accidents caused by drink-driving.

A total of 836 people were arrested on charges of drink-driving on April 16, said Mr Phetchawat, who formerly served as a deputy chairman of the House committee on religion, arts and culture.

The MFP is pushing the "progressive liquor bill" to amend the Excise Tax Act, in an bid to end the monopoly of big businesses in the alcoholic drink business and allow small-scale producers to enter the market.

However, the bill was shot down at its second and third readings in the House of Representatives late last year, shortly after the cabinet approved a new set of rules to control alcohol production.

The party lambasted the rules for posing stiffer barriers to small makers of alcoholic beverages and attempting to protect the interests of large brewers. But the government said the new regulations help ensure the quality of alcoholic drinks.

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