Thursday, 7 April 2016

Referendum Act

A referendum will be held on 7th August, giving Thais the chance to accept or reject the military's proposed new constitution. The final draft of the charter was published by the Constitution Drafting Committee last week, and an earlier draft was released in February.

The vote will take place in line with the 2016 Referendum Act, which will take effect on 22nd April. Commentators and former politicians have criticised the Act's restrictive conditions and harsh penalties, though its terms are actually similar to those of the 2007 Referendum Act.

The 2016 Act states that "anyone who publishes text, images or sound... that is either untruthful, harsh, offensive, rude, inciting or threatening, with the intention that voters will either not exercise their right to vote, or vote in a certain way" will face up to ten years in jail (article 61). The 2007 Act also stipulated a ten-year maximum sentence for those who "deceive, coerce, threaten, or influence eligible voters not to exercise their voting rights, to vote one way or another" (article 10).

The main difference is not the wordings of the two laws, but the political circumstances of the votes. Although the 2007 referendum was held during a military coup, the country was not under martial law or its equivalent. (Martial law had been lifted in most provinces on 26th January 2007.) This time, however, martial law was replaced by article 44 of the interim constitution, which outlaws any criticism of the junta's activities.

Despite this, several groups are already campaigning against the charter. Since February, Anurak Jeantawanich has been distributing "Vote NO" stickers and t-shirts. This week, the New Democracy Movement began its own referendum campaign, with "VOTE NO" t-shirts, bookmarks, and leaflets.

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