Ambassadors urge open talks over charter

Ambassadors urge open talks over charter

US, Canada, EU slam lack of free speech

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai's spokesman defends
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai's spokesman defends "public order and social harmony". (Photo courtesy MFA)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is open to opinions and has been engaged with diplomats in Bangkok to provide information on political developments in Thailand.

Two of the most important of these are the draft charter and the referendum which form parts of the roadmap towards sustainable democracy, the ministry said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee relayed a response Thursday to a previously unrevealed joint call by the European Union, the United States and Canada for an "open dialogue" on the referendum.

With regards to the call for an open dialogue on the referendum by some foreign ambassadors, Mr Sek said the ministry has not previously been informed of their stance before.

Mr Sek said public order and social harmony are key for the government to be able to see the roadmap through to the end. The government has, therefore, promulgated a number of laws to ensure that public order and social harmony prevail. These laws do not impinge on general freedom of expression -- which the government believes is a fundamental element for a democratic society -- as long as such expression does not undermine public order or social harmony.

He said so far various shades of opinion have been cast on the good and bad points of the draft, be they from academic circles, the press, political parties as well as the general public. However, the government still needs to uphold law and order to prevent any disruption of order in the name of freedom.

He said that ultimately, the right balance between freedom of expression and public order is a crucial ingredient for a smooth transition towards genuine and sustainable democracy.

In the 448-word statement the envoys say an open discussion on the merits of the draft is critical to the success of the government's announced goal of establishing a stable, more secure democracy.

While condemning efforts to use the referendum process to provoke violence, the ambassadors say "prohibition on the peaceful public expression of views inhibit debate and increase tensions".

The statement is endorsed by the ambassadors of Canada, the US and all 20 EU member states with a diplomatic presence in Thailand, namely Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Head of the European Union Delegation.

"As friends and partners of Thailand, we want the Kingdom to be free, strong, and united as it navigates the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century," the statement said.

"That is why we care deeply about the process of Thailand's current political transition. We urge the government to allow the Thai people to engage in open dialogue, forge common links, and find the consensus needed to build a strong and sustainable future for all."

Acknowledging criticism that dissenters received little chance to air their views on state media shows, Election Commission (EC) member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said Thursday that a soon-to-be-launched EC-sponsored TV talk show will include critics of the 279-section draft charter in four of its 10 episodes.

"Thais should be provided with sufficient knowledge before they cast their votes," Mr Somchai told reporters after meeting a group of activists who oppose the draft constitution.

Anusorn Unno, coordinator for the Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights, said 94 of 113 arrests and lawsuits regarding the referendum were based on NCPO order 3/2015 banning political rallies, despite many of them simply having some documents and not distributing them.

"While the Constitutional Drafting Committee and some civic groups have been campaigning for 'Vote Yes' the other side isn't allowed. People therefore see the discrepancies and feel discriminated against," said Mr Anusorn, also Thammasat University's dean of sociology and anthropology.

Mr Somchai said he has made clear that the Ban Pong case in Ratchaburi -- in which five people including a Prachatai reporter were arrested -- was not illegal.

He also showed to the media the New Democracy Movement's booklet titled "Arguments and Summaries of Draft Constitution", saying it was not illegal and could be disseminated while the NDM's big brochure titled "Seven Reasons Not To Accept the Constitution on 7 August" was illegal.

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