Managing “debate” on the draft charter

Not that long ago, one commentator described the Election Commission (EC) as “one of the most embarrassing organisations in Thailand…”.  It is headed by the equally embarrassing Somchai Srisuttiyakorn. Somchai is one of those apparently unselfconscious dolts who is given a position simply because he is both stupid and because of this, steadfastly loyal to his masters and patrons. He has made the EC the Anti-Election Commission. In his own telling, Somchai worked with the heads of the other “independent” agencies to bring down the elected government. He stated that “their work was carried out covertly with efforts made to involve respected figures.”

Readers will no doubt recall that, in the period prior to the 2014 military coup, the lawful and elected government tried to hold elections and was repeatedly thwarted by both the anti-democrats on the streets and by an Election Commission that seemed to not want to have any polls. The EC became a major impediment to democratic progress in Thailand. It repeatedly refused to do its lawful duty and hold an election in 2014. When it wasn’t simply refusing, it delayed and even abandoned voters.

Under the military dictatorship, the EC became the Anti-Election Propaganda Commission.

This anti-EC was reported to have “proposed imposing penalties against people who inappropriately criticize the draft of the new constitution…”. It stated that “[d]istorting details about the draft, using rude language to criticise it, or inciting people to go against it are among the activities that might face punishment…”.

It also agreed to provide “training” to military students (ROTC cadets) who would propagandize for the military junta’s draft charter.

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister and military bootlicker Wissanu Krea-ngam declared that there shall be no “[c]ampaigns against the draft constitution.” These “will be banned except in debates held by the Election Commission…”.

In a Khaosod report, it is confirmed that there will be only EC campaigning for the military junta’s charter, as decreed by boot polisher Wissanu, acting for his commanders. The report cites Somchai:

In order to ensure a free and fair referendum [sic.], the Election Commission will provide a TV platform for debates, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said Monday. No public gatherings or forums will be held as the commission fears they are “too risky” and could turn violent, however.

“Sometimes we cannot control the situation. Using a studio, we can broadcast it throughout the country, however,” said the 57-year-old Somchai, who has served on the five-member commission since 2013. He argued that only a few hundred people could attend an open forum, and he believes a studio debate could reach a much wider audience.

Unspecified “[o]pponents of the junta-sponsored draft charter will be limited to pre-recorded studio debates…” and we can bet that anything the junta doesn’t like will be carefully edited out, just as it will select the “opponents.” Somchai denies this, but who would believe such a person with a track record of serving anti-democrats and military authoritarians?

Confirming his “credentials” as a military lapdog, Somchai warned “those thinking of defying the junta’s ban and organizing their own public debate on the merits of the proposed constitution” that they “must be prepared to face the consequences.” The “consequences” are, as Wissanu also made clear, arrest, re-education sessions, military harassment and charges under various laws, including the draconian Article 44.

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