Activists challenge protest ban in court

Activists challenge protest ban in court

Group insists rights have been violated

Activists have asked the Constitutional Court to strike down the government's ban on political activities.
Activists have asked the Constitutional Court to strike down the government's ban on political activities.

Pro-election activists on Wednesday petitioned the Constitutional Court to strike down the regime's ban on political gatherings, which they said violates their rights.

The government opposed the lawsuit, but Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the current ban on political activities will likely be lifted by June to allow elections local administrative organisations (LAOs).

Current regime plans call for LAO voting around the country to precede national polls.

Activists filed their complaint at the Constitutional Court, accompanied by Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption.

The petition asked the court to protect their rights as stipulated by Section 213 of the constitution.

That section reads:

Section 213 A person whose rights or liberties recognised by the Constitution are violated shall be entitled to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court for its decision if such act of violation is contrary to or inconsistent with the Constitution, according to the rules, procedure and conditions as provided in the Organic Act on the Procedure of the Constitutional Court.

The suit says investigators charged members of the group with violating a National Council for Peace and Order order which bans political gatherings of five or more people.

The group said the order runs counter to the constitution which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.

The order was not issued for the sake of protecting public interest, but protecting the coup-makers, and it also violates human rights, the group said.

The order and the constitution contradict each other, it added. The constitution which is the supreme law of the country, legally overrides the order.

But if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is deemed to overrule the constitution, this will render the charter unenforceable, the group said.

Mr Wissanu, while predicting that the ban on political activity would "probably" be lifted by June, flatly refused to confirm an Election Commission (EC) statement that says August is the likely time for elections of members of the provincial administrative organisations (PAOs) and tambon administrative organisations (TAOs).

He said there was no telling if the local elections could be scheduled for August. All he would say was local polls are likely to be organised "this year".

Before the local elections can go ahead, four factors must be considered.

  • First, the bill governing the local elections, now in the hands of the EC, will need to be enacted
  • The EC must figure out the best polling day to avoid a clash with the general election
  • Constituencies have to be designated
  • The National Council for Peace and Order's prohibition against poll canvassing must be lifted.

Organising local polls requires multi-agency cooperation, such as between the EC and the Ministry of Interior which supervises the PAOs and the TAOs. It is also unclear at this point which election, between the PAOs and the TAOs, would come first, Mr Wissanu said.

There are currently 76 PAOs and several thousand TAOs.

Natthada Mahatthana, a member of the pro-election group, said the group expects the court to accept the petition for consideration quickly because the people's rights have been violated on a daily basis for too long.

"The NCPO order is meant to silence the people," she said.

In late January, about 100 people converged at the skywalk near the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in Bangkok's Pathumwan district to express their outrage over the possible 90-day delay of the general election.

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted last month to delay enforcement of the organic bill governing the election of MPs by another 90 days.

This effectively pushes back the poll, which was promised by Gen Prayut for November, until February of 2019 at the earliest.

The pro-election demonstrators want the government to keep its promise to hold the poll this year.

On Feb 10, about 500 activists gathered near the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to step up the pressure and vowed to continue to defy the ban on political activities in their bid to pressure Gen Prayut to hold the general election this year.

However, Gen Prayut said the current constitution stipulates that orders issued by the NCPO will continue to be enforceable.

Meanwhile, Somkid Lertpaithoon, chairman of a joint panel formed to fine-tune the content of an organic bill on the selection of senators, said the panel had not yet reached a conclusion.

The joint panel comprising five representatives of the NLA, five from the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and one from the Election Commission (EC) are thrashing out their differences over the bill on the selection of senators after it was passed by the NLA.

Mr Wissanu said the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) president has asked the government when the local elections bill will be presented to the assembly.

The NLA needs to know when the bill will reach it so it can plan its time slot as there are many bills waiting to be deliberated.

Also Wednesday, election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the EC was in the middle of reviewing the bill on local polls, after it had gone through public consultation. The draft was given to more than 3,800 LAO members to study.

Their feedback was being used to fine-tune the bill.

After the review, the bill will be forwarded to the NLA through the cabinet.


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