'Rally ban' vote plan under fire
Referendum would 'worsen conflict'
Critics have slammed a Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) deputy leader's proposal to hold a referendum to ban political rallies for two years, saying it would violate people's rights and only worsen the ongoing conflict.
The idea was floated by Paiboon Nititawan who said it would allow the economy to recover and stop tensions from escalating.
Citing Section 166 of the constitution, Mr Paiboon said he would propose to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that the question of whether to ban rallies could be asked of 52 million voters during the provincial administration elections in 76 provinces scheduled on Dec 20.
Since Bangkok does not have a provincial administration election, a referendum could be held specifically for the purpose, which would require only a small budget, he said.
The PPRP list MP said he had proposed the idea of using a referendum instead of a fresh election as the solution to the problem at the joint sitting of the Senate and the House on Oct 26.
In his view, a House dissolution to pave the way for a general election, one of the three demands of anti-government protesters, would only exacerbate economic problems and not solve the political conflict.
Since Section 166 does not allow holding a referendum on an issue that is in conflict with the constitution or an issue that involves individuals or groups of people, he proposed that the question be phrased carefully.
He said the question should ask whether voters agree with the two-year ban on "political assemblies which violate the public assembly law, breach Section 6 of the constitution on national security and undermine efforts to solve economic problems stemming from the Covid-19 outbreak".
The question should cite as reasons the need to maintain national security, public safety and economic security, prevent public disasters caused by conflicts among people, and allow economic measures, aid and remedies for people to bear fruit.
Since the public referendum law has yet to take effect, the prime minister could issue an executive decree for the referendum since it is an urgent issue, he said.
The referendum would allow people to directly exercise their sovereignty and power to address the situation now and achieve a consensus, he added.
However, Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome lambasted the proposal, saying it would violate the right to assembly guaranteed by the constitution.
He said that democracy is about respecting the majority and guaranteeing people's freedom. It is not about seeing the majority take away others' rights, he added.
"This proposal not only breaches the constitution, but it is also badly flawed and unworkable. Claims that rallies would impede an economic recovery and efforts to handle Covid-19 are unwarranted," Mr Rome said.
Pol Col Tawee Sodsong, secretary-general of the opposition Prachachat Party, echoed the view, saying anti-government demonstrators have the right to hold peaceful rallies under the constitution.
"While we respect Mr Paiboon's proposal, it is impossible to deprive them of their constitutional right to assembly," Pol Col Tawee said.
Commenting on the proposal, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said: "I have never heard about this before. But it sounds strange."
Pornsant Liangboonlertchai, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of law, wrote on Facebook that the proposal runs counter to the constitution because it would breach the people's rights and liberties.
He said that the cabinet could use the referendum to restrict the people's rights which would lead to a dictatorship of the majority, thus only further fuelling the conflict.
"Mr Paiboon's proposal is not in line with democratic principles. It will only create divisions and conflicts as well as deligitimise the current constitution," Mr Pornsant said.
Pakorn Nilprapunt, secretary-general of the Council of State, said that the council forwarded a national referendum bill to the cabinet secretariat on Oct 23.
The bill is intended to pave the way for a referendum on a charter rewrite -- one of the key demands made by the anti-government movement.