EC rapped for 'divisive' referendum song

EC rapped for 'divisive' referendum song

The Election Commission insists it was not trying to look down on people from the North and Northeast with its 'unity song', but many have taken offence.
The Election Commission insists it was not trying to look down on people from the North and Northeast with its 'unity song', but many have taken offence.

The Election Commission (EC) has brushed off criticism of its referendum canvass song which has been criticised for "looking down upon the northern and northeastern people", many of whom are supporters of the ousted Pheu Thai Party.

The folk-style song, titled [On] August 7, Be United in Referendum for Secured Democracy, was released early this month.

The song was reposted to the Freedom Thailand YouTube channel on Tuesday, and has drawn strong comments. The like/dislike ratio on Thursday morning was 1/17.

It urges people in the North to "not be fooled and manipulated by anyone" when they cast their votes.

One part of the song suggests northeastern people must use their conscience to consider the contents of the draft charter and not let anybody deceive them.

Another section underlines that northern citizens must not allow anyone to lead them and they must follow up and study the contents of the draft constitution in-depth. Another part however indicates that southern people love democracy and freedom.

The song has drawn the ire of some academics and politicians, who said it is insulting to people in the North and Northeast. Both regions are political strongholds of the Pheu Thai Party, from which the National Council for Peace and Order seized power in a coup on May 22, 2014.

The South is the long-time political stronghold of Pheu Thai's arch-rival the Democrat Party.

EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the EC members have not convened to discuss the criticism, but in his personal view, the song does not have content which are deemed to insult people in any regions.

The songwriter has also insisted he had no intention of insulting anyone, he said.

Mr Somchai said people are sometimes too sensitive and pay attention to trivial issues.

The EC however is zeroing in on another song in a video clip which was posted on a Facebook page. The clip is being criticised for using rude words and influencing people in how to vote in the referendum.

Mr Somchai said the EC has assigned its working team to study whether the song has violated laws and the results are expected within a week.

He warned people seen in the clip to notify police if they had posted it before the Referendum Act took effect, or else they would risk being charged. People should also not share the clip, he said.

The EC is in the process of gathering information and if people are found to have committed offences, the information will be sent to police to proceed with prosecution, Mr Somchai said.

Last month, the Charter Drafting Committee's folk song aiming to boost public interest in the draft constitution also drew criticism from social activists, who said it failed to reflect the substance of the issues addressed in the draft.

Responding to the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship's move to form a centre to monitor fraud in the referendum, Mr Somchai said although it would be good for the public to help monitor the referendum, there is no EC regulation that supports the public sector scrutinising the event.

This differs from elections where the EC gives full support to public participation, he said.

He insisted referendum observers must not intrude upon polling booths, obstruct the work of poll officials or cause trouble, incite chaos or influence people in how they vote.

Speaking out against the EC's song, Somkid Cheukong, a former Pheu Thai MP for Ubon Ratchathani, said the song contains negative content regarding people in the North and Northeast. They are looked down upon for being "stupid" for being led by others in how to vote while the song also caused divisions between different regions of the country, he noted.

He said he doubted whether the people behind this song are prejudiced against northern and northeastern people, adding the EC should review the song's contents before it causes dissatisfaction among people in the two regions.

UDD co-leader Nattawut Saikuar said that he would release on Thursday his own referendum song, which he wrote and sang himself.

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