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CDC defends charter summary with week to go

Posted by pakin On August - 1 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Criticism of pamphlets as propaganda that distorts new charter rejected by drafters.

CHARTER DRAFTERS said yesterday |authorised “simplified summary” booklets do not present distorted information as some |critics have claimed.

Authorities, meanwhile, have stepped up efforts to convince the public not to be |convinced by “false” information in the six days before the referendum.

The summary pamphlets conveying the gist of the draft, published by the Election Commission (EC) last month and distributed to 17 million households nationwide, have been criticised as propaganda that exaggerates the benefits people will receive if the charter is enacted.

The legal watchdog group Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw) blamed the pamphlets not only for alleged exaggerations, but also because they convey additional information not presented in the original version of the draft while omitting controversial points, |especially those regarding newly invented |parliamentary mechanisms.

iLaw published 34 infographics last week explaining its concerns about the pamphlets on its Facebook page, which have received more than 2,300 shares so far.

Those arguments, however, were countered by Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) spokesman Chatchai Na Chiangmai, who told The Nation that the CDC authored the summarised content of the pamphlets with only the intent to simplify complexity of the charter draft. Emphasising that the CDC did not distort the draft’s content by merely “summarising”, Chatchai said extra information needed to be added only to provide a clearer picture of what will happen if the draft is enacted.

Some points in the draft were also omitted because they were “too trivial” for people in general to acknowledge, Chatchai added.

The spokesman said that the CDC would probably not make official remarks on the matter despite the series of allegations about the pamphlets. “If they want to fix it, they should raise their concerns to us. Speaking elsewhere doesn’t help,” Chatchai said.

“Pamphlets for people to study”

Meanwhile, government Spokesperson Maj-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said people should stick to EC-organised platforms to obtain knowledge about the charter draft, including the EC’s website, mobile application and the pamphlets.

“People, as holders of rights [to vote], should get to understand the draft by themselves,” Sansern said. “They should not believe politicians or ill-intentioned people who keep distorting facts and creating misunderstanding.”

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has also urged provincial order centres to closely monitor the situation during last stretch before the referendum, Sansern added.

EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn reiterated rules that apply to the run-up to the referendum, including that polling must not be conducted starting today at 4pm until August 7.

Surveys conducted and published earlier can be shared online but pollsters are not allowed to redistribute the results.

At social gatherings, people should not try to persuade others to vote in a particular way, he said, while social events held from 6pm on next Sunday to Monday must not serve alcoholic drinks.

Meanwhile, across the country, various activities focused on the final week ahead of the vote.

Pumsan Seniwong na Ayuthaya, Democrat Party chairman of the strategic committee on special activities for the Northeastern region, urged people to exercise their consciences before deciding whether to accept or reject the draft.

He said he did not question the Democrat Party’s decision to reject the draft on the grounds of democratic principles but he did not want the referendum to cause divisions between people who work together to protect the country. “We should give respect to one another. Do not forget about reform and the country’s enemy,” he said.

In Lop Buri more than 300 Thai students rallied in Kok Samrong district to urge people to cast ballots in the referendum.

In one example in Songkhla, a retired teacher took part in the referendum campaign by riding pillion on a modified motorcycle to encourage voters to cast their ballots.

Alert in the South

Meanwhile, security officials yesterday warned people in the deep South of car bomb attacks during the last week ahead of the referendum.

Colonel Therdsak Ngamsanong, deputy commander of the Yala Special Task Force, said people could cast their ballots in safety because officials would be united to keep the deep South peaceful and orderly.

He admitted that language barriers made it difficult for people to understand the charter draft but he hoped that draft specialists would explain to voters how to cast their ballots.

Therdsak added that the driver of a pick-up truck that was stolen in Yala, which authorities suspected could be used in a car bomb attack, had escaped along a route towards Krong Pinang district in Yala.

He said the perpetrator might wait until authorities stop searching for the |vehicle before modifying it and committing a crime.

‘Climate of fear will boost turnout’

Posted by pakin On July - 25 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

80% tipped to vote in Isaan as ‘many want closure’; people afraid to discuss charter; lack of knowledge on draft common in N/east

Voter turnout in the Northeast could reach the 80-per-cent goal in the referendum in two weeks and favour approval of the draft charter despite a climate of fear and a lack of understanding about the draft, a source close to Election Commission (EC) offices in Isaan provinces has said.

Ahead of the August 7 referendum, the Isaan region is still relatively quiet, the source said. There had little public discussion and political commentary, he said, because people fear meetings could breach the junta’s ban on political gatherings.

However, Isaan people will cast their ballots because they want the referendum to “finish” the issue so the next general election can be held, Kongchai Chaikung, village head of Ban Nong Hu Ling in Udon Thani province and red-shirt supporter, said.

“They are looking forward to exercising their electoral rights in the next election and have their own representatives, rather than live under the coup,” Kongchai said. He said people had suffered from record low prices for farm products since the coup and hoped that their representatives and the next elected government can solve the economic slowdown.

People in Isaan believe that if the draft passes the referendum, the next election will be held by 2017 according to the junta’s road map, he added.

But the junta could prolong its tenure citing a need to edit or write a new draft without a fixed timetable, he said.

On the other hand, the junta has also intensified security measures, especially in Isaan, which is known to be a red-shirt stronghold, to ensure the referendum proceeds smoothly, a source close to the junta said.

In Isaan, the junta has tried to suppress red-shirt community leaders who canvassed for Pheu Thai Party during recent elections, the source added. Tactics include frequent summons or reporting to security

authorities.

“I used to be summoned monthly to report to security authorities in 2014 when the coup took place,” village head Kongchai said. “They asked me and other red-shirt community leaders to stop political activities. We have no power and have to obey.”

He said that since then he has coordinated with state administrators and district chiefs, passing their policies on to villagers. Kongchai has even become a so-called Kru Kor, or “Teacher C”, volunteer trained by district officials to knock on doors and explain the charter draft content in person.

The military and concerned security agencies are also visiting villages for different reasons including “support missions” related to the referendum, said Watcharin Sutawadee, an official in Muang Udon Thani district.

Thongmuan Pithaknok, a villager in Nakhon Ratchasima, said she and several of her neighbours believe the military will harm them if they do not vote in the referendum.

Despite a large turnout, the quality of voting in the referendum will be poor because voters do not understand the content of the draft, said Preecha Uitragool, Open Forum for Democracy Foundation coordinator for the Isaan region.

“Booklets and a full version of the draft are not available in some areas. [There are] no inclusive debates and no political talks. How will people make the right decision?” Preecha said.

Villagers had not received booklets or a full version of the draft as of three weeks prior to the referendum, said Krisada Monthathip, the head of Ban Sommai village in Udon Thani.

According to Nakhon Ratchasima provincial EC office director Thitiphol Todsarod, state agencies have recently made a great effort to encourage Isaan voters to cast ballots as the region has the largest number of eligible voters. He said in big provinces such as Nakhon Ratchasima and Buri Ram, referendum banners bedeck downtown areas while on the outskirts of remote provinces, monks, village chiefs and the state’s local networks urge people to vote in face-to-face discussions.

Provincial EC director Thitiphol said not all households had received the full draft because only 1.2 million copies had been printed. But he said all families would receive booklets spelling out the main ideas of the draft. Some 17 million copies of the summary booklets have been printed.

With more than Bt200 million budgeted for referendum PR activities, provincial EC offices will initiate a number of projects in collaboration with a massive state administration and security agency effort to get at least an 80-per-cent turnout nationwide, a source close to the EC said. In the 2007 referendum, 57 per cent of voters cast their ballots.

THE ELECTION Commission (EC)’s Somchai Srisuthiyakorn and the charter drafters have initially agreed that the distribution of New Democracy Movement (NDM)’s “Seven Reasons to Reject the Charter” leaflets was illegal, warning that further distribution, either on or offline, will be deemed a crime.

However, no punishment will be meted out for leaflets distributed in the past, Somchai said, and the group will be given the benefit of the doubt, as its real intentions are not clear.

“We don’t want to create any more tension. So, no charges will be pressed over past actions,” the commissioner said.

The leaflets as well as an online infographic featuring seven problematic points concerning the draft charter had been circulated by the NDM for a couple of months after the draft was completed in early April.

Apart from these leaflets, the group has printed other anti-charter material including “Counter Arguments of the Constitution Draft”, which came in the spotlight when chief drafter Meechai Ruchupan declared it to be a “fake booklet”. He said the explanatory booklet looks similar to the booklet issued by the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) and some say it may cause confusion.

Somchai said he does not think the “counter-argument” booklet violates Article 61 of the referendum law, which prohibits the spreading of false, vulgar, inciting and intimidating messages. However, he said, it could still be in breach of the criminal law, as some of the content can be considered defamatory. However, he added, this was not under the EC’s jurisdiction.

The CDC, on the other hand, has not taken an official stand on whether the booklet contains any information that distorts the draft charter and has yet to decide what action should be taken against the group. However, CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said a subcommittee has reported that some of the content distorts the draft charter.

Violation of the referendum law’s Article 61 is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to Bt200,000.

As for the thousands of anti-draft charter letters found circulating in Chiang Mai and Lampang this week, Somchai confirmed they were illegal and contained distorted facts about clauses related to state welfare schemes such as universal healthcare, free education and pension for the elderly. Though refusing to say exactly what was included in the letters, he said the local EC office has already filed complaints with the police, which is investigating the case.

CDC chief Meechai has also expressed concern about the spreading of false information, but said he was more determined to complete his job of ensuring that people have the right information ahead of the August 7 referendum.

He said drafters could tolerate different views on the charter, but would not accept distortion of facts, adding that if the group really cares about the people, then it should not lie to them. If this is being done by politicians, then it is a clear sign that politics in this country is underdeveloped and can be dangerous in the future.

Apart from that, the election commissioner and the CDC also resolved yesterday that they would provide more space for the opposition to voice its opinions in relation to the draft charter.

Somchai said he had called on a TV station to produce a show for both opponents and supporters of the draft to air their views so voters can have more information before deciding in the poll.

This move was in response to heavy criticism that the EC-sponsored programme broadcast on more than 20 channels did not provide opponents enough time to air their views.

However, Somchai said, that four of the 10 future episodes would feature those who are critical of the draft charter.

In response to complaints that the draft charter has not reached voters in many areas and many people are still not able to access it online, Somchai said the entire copy of the draft charter will be printed in three key newspapers during the weeks before the referendum on August 7.

In a related development, two pro-democracy groups yesterday met with the authorities to ask for a platform to voice their opinions and permission to launch a free and fair campaign.

The Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights met Somchai in the morning, while NDM submitted a letter to Meechai in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Administrative Court has rejected a petition from the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) that sought to annul the EC’s regulations on the expression of public opinions in the run-up to the referendum, the court said in a press release yesterday.

Thailand joins Myanmar in banning movie

Posted by pakin On July - 7 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

“Twilight Over Burma”, a film about a Shan prince and his Austrian bride, was not just banned in the land of its origin, but also in Thailand where it was mostly filmed.

The film was removed from the Thailand International Film Destinations festival as well as from last month’s Human Rights festival in Myanmar.

Though the organisers have not issued any official statement, the reason behind the withdrawal is said to be related to bilateral ties between the two countries.

The film, known in Thai as “Singsaengchan” is based on the book “Twilight Over Burma – My Life as a Shan Princess” written by Inge Eberhard (now Sargent). Sargent was an Austrian student on a US scholarship who fell in love with Sao Kya Seng, a young mining student from Burma, in the 1950s. On their wedding day, she discovers that he is the prince of Myanmar’s Shan State. Her husband ends up being jailed after the military coup in 1962 and she is unable to do anything.

In reality though, the prince disappeared and Sargent fled to the United States with her two daughters. In the film Sargent is played by German actress Maria Ehrich, while Sao Kya Seng’s character is played by Thai actor Daweerit Chullasapya.

The film was mainly shot in Chiang Mai province and at Inle Lake in Shan State’s capital Tongyi.

“Twilight” was one of the four films withdrawn from the festival line-up.

Starting yesterday at Bangkok’s Paragon Cineplex, the three other films removed from the festival line-up were the Chinese comedy “Detective Chinatown”, Swedish comedy “Happy Hour in Paradise” and French comedy “Pattaya.”

“Detective Chinatown” was released in local cinemas in April.

The festival runs until July 12 and features films from different countries that have been shot either partially or fully in Thailand. This festival held annually since 2013 aims to promote Thailand as a film location.

The scripts of foreign films featuring Thailand have to be first submitted to the Thailand Film Office before shooting can begin. The government aims to encourage more international film productions in Thailand and has recently announced a 15 per cent cash incentive.

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