Unfair referendum process demands the repeal of oppressive decrees

Press release

(Paris, Bangkok) FIDH and its member organization Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) today rejected the referendum process that resulted in the adoption of the draft constitution as unfair and lacking many of the basic conditions that would have ensured broad participation in such a pivotal political event.

The two organizations urge Thailand’s military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), to immediately repeal its oppressive decrees and restore all civil and political rights prior to the next general election.

“The draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assemblies turned the referendum into a process devoid of any credibility. It’s imperative that the military junta immediately removes all restrictions on the exercise of civil and political rights to ensure people can freely participate in the country’s political life.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

On 9 August 2016, in a blatant attempt to provide a semblance of legitimacy to a widely discredited process, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issued a statement that claimed that the referendum was conducted in a “free, fair and transparent manner.” The statement outrageously declared that, in the lead-up to the referendum, “citizens were free to express opinions regarding the draft.” MOFA’s assertion that over 60% of the eligible voters had cast their ballot was contradicted by official figures from the Election Commission (EC), which set the turnout of the 7 August referendum at 59.4%.

According to the EC, 33.6% of eligible voters (or 61.4% of those who cast valid ballots) voted in favor of the draft constitution. Thais living abroad were excluded from the vote.

“The lower than predicted turnout severely undermines the legitimacy of the referendum’s outcome. It shows that a lack of adequate information and restrictions on debate prior to the vote were major factors that kept people from voting.”

Jaturong Boonyarattanasoontorn, UCL Chairman

In a report released on 3 August 2016, FIDH and UCL documented the oppressive environment in which the NCPO orchestrated the constitution drafting process and the referendum on the draft charter. The report, titled “Roadblock to democracy - Military repression and Thailand’s draft constitution,” illustrated how the run-up to the referendum was marred by severe restrictions on people’s ability to debate and criticize the content of the draft charter.

Authorities used decrees issued by the NCPO and repressive legislation to harass, detain, and prosecute critics of the draft constitution. From 27 April to 6 August 2016, authorities arbitrarily detained at least 55 people for criticizing or campaigning against the draft constitution. Authorities also detained at least 38 members of the anti-establishment United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) in connection with the group’s attempts to establish referendum monitoring centers.

In addition, police and military personnel regularly attended and monitored public discussions on the draft constitution. In many cases, authorities ordered organizers to cancel seminars and panel discussions on the draft charter. In others instances, authorities intimidated meeting participants. While authorities continued to stifle public debate on the draft constitution, the NCPO mobilized considerable resources to promote the draft charter in a campaign that was marred by double standards and bias.

FIDH and UCL call on the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), two NCPO-appointed bodies, to swiftly draft and adopt election laws that are conducive to a free, fair, participatory, and inclusive election process. On 9 August 2016, NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that a general election would be held in November 2017.

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