By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — Want to wear a T-shirt urging folks to vote the draft charter up or down? That’s fine, so long as you don’t wear them with a big group of friends in public. Want to hang your position from a flag or sign in your window? No problem, just don’t put it on a billboard.
Those are some examples of how a vaguely worded law severely limiting campaigning before the Aug. 7 vote will be enforced, the election commissioner responsible for voting said in an interview Thursday night – if the referendum happens at all.
Seeking to lend some clarity to what could land someone in prison for 10 years under the new election law, Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said there are three categories of offending behavior: referring to the proposed constitution using “rude” language, disseminating false information and inciting people to gather or vote one way or another. The Election Commission is scheduled to publicly announce specific guidelines for public conduct Friday afternoon in Bangkok.
Somchai said debates can be organized to discuss the merits of the charter, which was written under the supervision of the military regime, but only by government agencies, universities and mass media organizations.
That’s if there is a vote. Somchai didn't rule out the possibility it will be canceled, saying it's up to the powers that be, though the Election Commission will move forward with its preparations under the assumption there will be, for now.
Despite the junta’s efforts to quash criticism of the charter, the public response has widely been negative, with objections raised from across the political divide over its undemocratic features.
Asked about speculation the junta would cancel the referendum if it believes the charter will go down in flames, Somchai said he does not know.
The proof will come in about a month, he said, when ballots are to be printed.
“If they don't do it, then it won't be done," he said Thursday evening at a reception for Polish National Day held at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Either way, Somchai said the public should remain mindful of the rules, such as the ban on any gatherings of more than four people for what could be deemed a political purpose.
And those who might look to sell campaign T-shirts or pins? Don’t forget to pay proper taxes, he said.
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