By ANAPAT DEECHUEY,
Critics accuse NCPO of bias, question motives behind 'peacekeeping' offices.
THE PREMIER YESTERDAY invited red-shirt members and other civil society groups to join newly established government peacekeeping centres for the upcoming referendum on the draft constitution.
However, General Prayut Chan-o-cha dismissed a claim by the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) that the government’s “Centres for Maintaining Peace and Order” copy the group’s now-defunct Anti-Fraud Monitoring Centres.
“They have different names,” he said.
The government’s peacekeeping centres, which will be established in all 77 provinces, “will monitor fraud or any foul play as they [the UDD] wish. Anyone who wants to do that can join. Why do you have to set up your own to compete against the state?”
Authorities prevented the UDD last month from setting up so-called anti-fraud monitoring centres across the country.
On Sunday, the government announced the opening of the centres nationwide in preparation for the August 7 charter referendum.
Government Spokesman Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the centres would seek information about activities that cause commotion, distort the charter draft’s content or violate the referendum law, as well as handle matters in line with the public assembly bill.
Prayut said national administration is a state duty, adding that responsible agents would be stationed near polling stations but not interfere in accordance with existing laws.
Every province will be watched equally to ensure that violence does not break out. Similar centres would be set up prior to the next election if there is any sign of impending violence, he added.
Critics have said the centres were redundant since existing government bodies should be able to maintain public order and monitor fraud.
However, authorities insisted the roles of the existing agencies and the peacekeeping centres did not overlap because the latter are under the Interior Ministry and focused specifically on issues related to the charter referendum.
National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesman Colonel Piyapong Klinphan meanwhile emphasised that the Interior Ministry would be in charge and coordinate with the Election Commission (EC) to facilitate the referendum process at the provincial and district levels.
Most centre officials would be staff from the Interior Ministry or volunteer police officers, the spokesman said, adding that the centres would be dissolved soon after the plebiscite.
Deputy Premier General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is a key NCPO figure and also defence minister, yesterday said the centres will be supervised by provincial governors to ensure their work will be fully integrated with other involved agencies, the EC and security services. “The government also wants to ensure peace and order,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pheu Thai Party member Chaturon Chaisang expressed concern over possible bias, saying the centres could result in further restrictions of freedom of expression.
He said monitoring fraud was an EC task and the agency should fulfil the job in good faith. However, when the agency seems to take action only against opponents of the draft, authorities should instead try to be impartial, the former education minister said.
“The government should not interfere or do this job for the EC when it obviously supports the charter draft. These centres can never be neutral,” Chaturon said.
Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the red shirt movement, yesterday accused the government of double standards.
“We weren’t able to set up our monitoring centres so why should the military government be allowed to set up their centres?” he told Reuters. “The military government is blindfolding the electorate and leading their hands to vote in the manner they want.”
Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intrasombat said he was still on the fence yesterday. He did not know what information might have motivated the NCPO to establish the centres.