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EC explains controversial Article 61 to charter court

Jun 14. 2016
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By CHANIKARN PHUMHIRAN,
KASAMAKO

Referendum boosters fine tune songs after critics allege discrimination.
THE ELECTION Commission (EC) yesterday sent a written explanation to the Constitutional Court about the referendum law’s controversial Article 61. 
In the explanation, the agency argued that the clause does not contravene the 2014 interim charter, which protects rights and freedom of expression.
EC president Supachai Somcharoen and EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn will testify in court on behalf of the agency if required, an EC source said yesterday. 
The EC also refused to reveal details of the letter, saying it could affect the legal process. 
Yesterday’s move came after the Constitutional Court asked the EC to explain the controversial article last week. 
Article 61 prohibits the spreading of “false”, “rude” or “intimidating” messages related to the referendum and any action that could influence the vote. 
However, a group of scholars and activists filed a petition against the article, alleging that it violates the freedom of expression protected by the country’s interim supreme law.
Authorities have said that if the court finds the clause in breach of the interim charter, it will be nullified. However, the rest of the bill would remain in effect and the referendum date of August 7 would not be changed. 
 
Chiang Mai venue changed
The EC yesterday also resolved that the venue for providing explanations on the referendum in Chiang Mai would be changed from Kawila Military Camp to a national convention centre, as the new venue is able to house as many as 500 people.
Thanit Sriprathet, EC deputy secretary-general, said Kawila Camp’s hall only had the capacity for 200 people, hence the convention centre was more appropriate.
He denied that the change was prompted by critics saying that holding such an event in a military camp would generate an undemocratic and uncomfortable atmosphere.
Thanit also said that although international observers were welcome to the event, the EC did not have a policy of inviting people from overseas. 
He said there were far too many organisations and countries, and the agency could not possibly send invitations to everyone.
Regarding claims that the song promoting the referendum discriminated against people from the North and Northeast, Thanit said the lyrics had been adjusted and publicised yesterday. He said the agency would gather public opinions on the song’s new version until Friday before finalising it. 
Supachai said he did not think the initial lyrics were problematic, but the agency had agreed to make the revision because it did not want a trivial issue to stir up unnecessary conflicts. 
The EC has also launched a new song to urge young voters to participate in the referendum. This song is sung by Suthita “Image” Chanachaisuwan and Thanon “Non” Chamroen, former contestants in the singing contest “The Voice”. It aims to encourage first-time voters and young voters to exercise their rights on August 7. 
Anybody who is 18 or older on the day of the referendum, or was born before August 9, 1998, will be eligible to vote.
 

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