THOUSANDS of anti-constitution letters violating Article 61 of the Referendum Act were found in Lampang province last week.
A provincial Election Commission (EC) officer said they appeared to be bound for households in the North’s Chiang Mai and Lampang Provinces in an attempt to encourage voters to vote against the charter.
Local election commission officers and police examined the letters, which had been intercepted by post offices, and found they carried messages attacking the constitution draft scheduled to enter a referendum next month, the officer told The Nation. Officials are currently investigating, after the EC lodged a police complaint, to find out the origin of the letters. It is expected police will identify the sender within two or three days, he said.
More than 2,000 letters were intercepted, found in post boxes around Lampang by postmen suspicious of such a volume of similar letters. They bore no senders’ name or address on the envelopes, only the recipients’ in Chiang Mai and Lampang.
The letters reportedly tried to persuade voters that the constitution would take away some welfare provisions – such as free universal healthcare, the elderly pension, or free education. Also, they claimed if voters voted yes to the additional question, the Senate would be able to jointly choose at least two prime ministers as the Senate’s term is five years.
The contents of the letters were the same as in the anti-charter booklets found in Chiang Mai last week, the local EC officer claimed.
The upper northern part of Thailand, especially Chiang Mai and Lampang, is widely recognised as a stronghold of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Interior Minister General Anupong Paojinda said that interior officers in both provinces had already coordinated with other concerned authorities and they all would proceed with the case in line with the law.
The recently set-up centre for keeping peace and order during the referendum would also be alert for more similar violations, the minister said. So far, there had not been any further reports, he said, adding he wanted the public to be aware where they could receive true information, primarily from government offices and the EC-sponsored media.
Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said he had seen the letters and in his view they were against the referendum law. He said currently there were underground movements against the charter which were influencing voters. One way to solve the problem was to allow everyone to speak openly [about the draft], he said.
Somchai said he would propose the idea to the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) today as they would meet to discuss offences against the referendum law which were growing as the voting day approached.
Among items under scrutiny were booklets now in circulation. They would see whether they violated the Referendum Act and how to proceed if violations were found.
Somchai said the CDC could file complaints itself, or the EC could proceed in accordance with the law, or both agencies could decide not to take any action at all. The fastest way would be to have the CDC file complaints itself because the EC would take weeks to decide how to proceed with each case, Somchai added.
Meanwhile, the professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) yesterday issued a statement calling on authorities to drop charges against a Prachatai online journalist alleged of breaching the referendum law.
The statement reads that the club was concerned at the detention and charging of Taweesak Kerdpoka, a journalist with the independent news website Prachatai. Taweesak was arrested on July 10 after being found on a pick -up truck carrying alleged anti-charter booklets along with members of the New Democracy Movement, an anti-coup student group, in Ratchaburi’s Ban Pong district. He was released on bail but has been charged with violating the referendum law, along with the activists. His office at Prachatai, an online news agency in Bangkok, was searched for related evidence on Tuesday.
“It is not unusual for journalists to accompany or travel with newsmakers and interviewees. As a reporter covering human and environmental rights, Mr Taweesak was merely doing his job” the FCCT’s statement read. “The FCCT is concerned that arresting and charging him sets an alarming precedent for media freedom, and calls on Thai authorities to withdraw the charges against him.”
Prior to the FCCT’s statement, local media organisations – the Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, as well as international groups like Reporters Without Borders – issued similar statements calling for the withdrawal of the charges.