EC insists referendum can't be delayed

EC insists referendum can't be delayed

Meechai warns over 'anti-charter elements'

The Aug 7 referendum will go ahead as planned even if the Constitutional Court rules against a particular clause of the referendum law, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn says.

Mr Somchai said on Friday if the court accepts for consideration an Ombudsman petition against the clause which is seen to restrict freedom of expression, and rules it violates the interim charter, this will not affect the August referendum schedule.

He said the only way to postpone the referendum is to amend the 2014 interim charter's clauses relating to the referendum.

The interim charter stipulates a specific time frame for the referendum, and requires the Election Commission (EC) to announce the date for the referendum anywhere from 90 to 120 days from when the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) hands the summary of the final draft charter to the Election Commission (EC).

Mr Somchai insisted the referendum must be held within the 120-day time frame.

The Office of the Ombudsman voted unanimously on Wednesday to petition the Constitutional Court to rule on whether the Referendum Act's Section 61 goes against the interim charter's clause on freedom of expression.

The move followed a complaint filed by the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw) group and academics last month, stating that certain paragraphs of the law's Section 61 restricted the people's right to exercise their freedom of expression ahead of the referendum.

Rights and freedoms are guaranteed by Section 4 of the interim charter.

Paragraph 2 of Section 61 says that anyone who disseminates in newspapers, radio and TV broadcasts, electronic media as well as other channels, messages, pictures, and sounds that are "inconsistent with the truth" or delivered in a violent, aggressive, rude, provocative or threatening manner that could "prevent a voter from casting a ballot... shall be considered as disrupting the referendum".

The law says an offender faces a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to 200,000 baht.

Mr Somchai said that if the offences and penalties stipulated by the referendum law are ruled unconstitutional by the court, there are still other laws to punish those who disrupt the referendum.

CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan yesterday said "anti-charter elements" are continuing to distort the substance of the draft constitution.

He said the CDC is concerned that if Section 61 of the referendum law is ruled invalid by the court, this would encourage those anti-charter groups to create unrest in the lead-up to the referendum.

Mr Meechai said the CDC has communicated its concerns to the EC, which is responsible for organising the referendum, to come up with measures to deal with the issue.

Gen Somjate Boonthanom, a former chairman of the National Legislative Assembly's (NLA) committee vetting the referendum bill, said the Ombudsman's petition was a healthy sign of checks and balances.

The petition demonstrated that coup-appointed bodies such as the NLA are also subject to scrutiny by independent organisations, Gen Somjate said.

He said the referendum law was designed to ensure the referendum is free and fair, adding that the referendum issue should not be exploited to create conflicts.

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