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Referendum T-shirts not always illegal: EC member


Training volunteers about referendum and draft charter goes forward even though materials fail to arrive time first sessions.

ELECTION COMMISSION (EC) member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn explained yesterday why he did not think it was illegal for Pheu Thai Party member Suranand Vejjajiva to wear a T-shirt displaying his voting preferences for the referendum. 

Chulalongkorn University political science lecturer Pitch Pongsawat has also been seen wearing a similar T-shirt. 
“What one wears is a personal decision, but it may be wrong if he wears this T-shirt everyday on TV. That may be seen as him campaigning for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote, or it could also prove that he is very poor and only owns one T-shirt,” Somchai said.
He added that it would be illegal if Suranand issues false or instigating statements, uses vulgar language, sells similar T-shirts to other people, or instigates people to rally and stir up turmoil. 
“I cannot say who is right or wrong. I’m just giving them recommendations out of respect,” he said. 
Somchai’s statements related to enforcement of the referendum law, which has been heavily criticised as being too strict, especially Article 61, which prohibits provocative messages that could incite unrest.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the EC must take responsibility if there are disturbances resulting from public figures wearing such T-shirts.
“If the EC believes it is not wrong, it has to take responsibility if incidents take place,” he said.
To ease political tensions, the EC is considering opening public forums in regions across the country for political figures to air their views and concerns about the coming referendum, like the event that was held in Bangkok on May 19.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) also announced plans to ease its policy of “inviting” opposition figures “for talks” by meeting them at government compounds instead of at military barracks. In addition, the NCPO plans to deal with future public gatherings by enforcing the relevant government legislation rather than junta orders.
Meanwhile, EC member Prawit Rattanapian presided over the training of the second batch of EC volunteers, known as Kru Kor, who are tasked as referendum procedural specialists to disseminate information about how to vote during the referendum. The EC plans to train five classes of Kru Kor before conducting training sessions for district and local-level EC officials, known as Kru Khoh and Kru Khor respectively. The commission plans to recruit 75,000 referendum officials nationwide.
Prawit added that the EC expects a turnout of more than 80 per cent in the upcoming referendum. Turnout in the 2007 referendum was 57 per cent, but it rose in the subsequent general election to above 60 per cent. 
Prawit said the EC was obliged to ensure that people in every village and tambon are educated about the draft charter and how to vote. The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) is responsible for the former challenge, while the EC is tasked with providing information about the referendum process. 
“We believe the most popular question is how to vote so the ballot is not invalidated,’’ he said, adding that unofficial results will be released by 7pm on August 7, the date of the referendum.
In a related development, CDC member Chatichai na Chiang Mai said the commission has finished training its Kru Khoh charter content specialists at the district level in 16 provinces but training materials had only arrived via mail yesterday, so they were not available during the training. 
Apart from the lack of training materials, the CDC had no problems in conducting the sessions, he said, adding that questions most frequently regarded education issues. 
Chatichai added that the EC had approved documents prepared by the CDC that would be handed out at villages across the country, with 300,000 sets of documents ready for distribution. 
The CDC and the National Legislative Assembly will kick off special training for charter content specialists in Bangkok on Friday when CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan will deliver an address on key points in the draft focusing on local communities, strategies, national reform and the provisional chapters. 

Published : May 31, 2016

By : THE NATION