By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — Opponents of the junta-sponsored draft charter will be limited to pre-recorded studio debates which will be televised nationwide, an elections official said.
In order to ensure a free and fair referendum, 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.
“If everything goes as planned, the forum to be provided by the Election Commission will be an open forum for all sides to equally express their views,” he said.
The programs will be pre-recorded and edited for content, Somchai said, but only to remove any offensive or defamatory statements.
“Let me insist that there will be no such editing that will be done in order to benefit a particular side,” he said.
Those who want to participate will have to register with the commission. Applicants will have to register as a group of at least 15 people, a process that should open around mid-April, Somchai said. Somchai boasted the debate will allot 30 minutes to each of 10 major topics related to the draft charter, and will be aired during prime time on a rotating schedule.
Somchai said those thinking of defying the junta’s ban and organizing their own public debate on the merits of the proposed constitution can go ahead but must be prepared to face the consequences.
“It must not be something that causes political chaos or is a tool for a particular political side,” the commissioner said. Somchai said the commission hasn’t considered asking the junta to relax its ban on political gatherings of five or more people for the sake of a free and fair vote.
Citizens should however have the right to wear T-shirts in support or opposition to the charter in public, as long as their messages don’t call for rejecting the referendum process.
Aware that some people have been removed by police and soldiers from public areas during the past few weekends for merely wearing T-shirts opposing the draft charter and giving away campaign stickers, Somchai said these people should have informed the commission in advance and registered with them for their own legal protection.
The Commission also plans send brochures to all voters with a brief summary of the draft charter and four pages positing major reasons to support or oppose it.
Somchai, who is in charge of organizing the July poll, said foreign election observers are welcome, and a budget might be allocated to cover lodging and domestic travel costs for up to 200 observers.
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