Those arguing that the charter came through a referendum forget the ‘climate of fear’ under junta

The decision to strike down a petition to amend the charter on the first reading without real deliberation is shameless and unjustifiable, opposition MPs told Thai Enquirer on Friday.

Parliament struck down a people’s petition, with over 150,000 signatures, to fix the junta-drafted charter this week by arguing the constitution was accepted by 16 million voters in a 2017 referendum.

“The constitutional referendum was done [in a way] in which those who disagreed with it were arrested and prosecuted so the argument is without merit,” said Tassanee Buranupakorn, a Pheu Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai.

During the lead-up to the 2017 constitutional referendum, General Prayut Chan-ocha used executive orders to halt the debate over the charter and arrest dissidents. The junta said the orders were used to keep the peace but critics said they were used to silence people who disagree with the regime.

“It was like a referendum that was being conducted with guns pointed at the people,” Tassanee told Thai Enquirer by phone.

Tassanee’s comments were in response to the junta-appointed senators who said this week in parliament that the constitution was backed by a referendum.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 120 politicians, activists, and journalists who either criticized or protested against the 2017 referendum were arrested.

According to HRW, the Prayut military government used “repressive laws” such as the Referendum Act, the Computer Crime Act, Section 116 of the penal code on sedition, and NCPO orders to censor media and prevent debate over the constitution ahead of the referendum.

Tassanee herself was arrested, charged with sedition by a military court and jailed for 21 days before she was released on bail, just for publicly criticizing the charter in 2016.

It took five years before the charges against her were dropped by a civilian court which said that she was just exercising her rights.

Tassanee said the junta released propaganda ahead of the referendum which stated that the junta-drafted charter should be accepted or else the military could come up with a less democratic charter.

Rangsiman Rome, a party-list MP for the Move Forward Party who was also arrested and charged for protesting against the military-drafted constitution agreed with Tassanee’s sentiment.

“The argument [that this charter came through popular vote] is unjustifiable because it only looked at the result but ignored the fact that only the Yes campaign was allowed to promote their views while the No campaign was unable to do so,” he told Thai Enquirer.

“The media were also gagged and information was being fed to them by the military.”

Rome said the entire lead-up to the referendum was unfair.

“Since there was no guarantee, many people were faced with a very difficult decision,” he said.

Rome also pointed out that the senators that voted against the referendum were put in place by the military government.

There is nothing fair about the process, he said.

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