Thai politicians slam NCPO plan to bar criticism

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Integrity of future elections questioned

Defiant politicians from major parties have opposed a junta proposal to bar any criticism of the regime during the campaign for the next election, saying such comments were a form of freedom of expression protected by the Constitution. The comments came in response to National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader and Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan’s remarks that candidates in local elections would be asked to refrain from attacking the junta or otherwise incite conflict when the junta allows local elections. 

Critics have expressed concern that the rule would also apply to the general election scheduled for next year.
Watana Muangsook, Pheu Thai Party’s former commerce minister, said the restriction was impermissible because it violated the Constitution. 

“All Thai people have the right to expression. The junta can sue individuals for defamation but it has no right whatsoever to shut people’s mouths, unless this regime is bigger than the Constitution,” the former minister said. Since the political activity ban had not been lifted despite the implementation of the political parties organic law and the Constitution, the NCPO had to answer why it was not following its “road map”, which was its own guideline that should be followed, Watana said. 

Nipit Intrasombat, deputy leader of Democrat Party, said he also believed that the NCPO could not possibly ban people from speaking against the regime. As a government funded by taxpayers, the NCPO could not just avoid public scrutiny, he said. 
“If you are really banning people from criticising it [the NCPO], you should keep staying in power and not bother holding an election at all,” Nipit said. “That way, you could do whatever you want, including prohibiting any criticism against yourselves.”

Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said the NCPO should try to be more broad-minded in the general election. At least politicians should be allowed to talk about public policies, which could involve comparing their proposals to the NCPO’s, he added.

Politicians must be able to give people choices, show their visions and point out differences in comparison with the NCPO, which has run the country for the past three to four years, he said. If the NCPO cannot be broad-minded and allow free expression, the election will be questionable in terms of being free and fair, Attasit said.

In a related development, Prawit said yesterday the NCPO would decide when the local elections should take place. However, the matter had not yet been discussed and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had not mentioned it either, he said. 
Prawit said that the NCPO still had to consider all the steps needed before lifting the ban on political parties’ activities.
Asked if the NCPO had concerns about the situation after the ban is lifted, Prawit said the NCPO would be certain that everything would be stable before it allowed the resumption of  political activities.

Amendments needed

Meanwhile, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed concern yesterday that it could be problematic to allow local elections while maintaining the ban on political activity. In some constituencies, local elections involved political parties, he said. 

Abhisit questioned whether continuing the ban would cause confusion over the extent that political parties could work as they would have to be active during the local elections. 

He added that related laws would have to be amended in line with the new charter before the next elections. Meechai Ruchupan, the chief charter drafter, also said it would take at least one or two months before local elections could be held to allow for the amendment of relevant laws.

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