Readers will remember that in May, a group The Nation described as “high-profile human rights advocates and former senators” submitted a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman, “seeking the nullification of the newly enacted referendum act, claiming it violates the interim constitution.” They claimed the law “violate[d] Article 4 of the interim charter, which guarantees freedom of expression.”
The Bangkok Post reports that the Ombudsman seems to have detected a case in this, and the “Ombudsman will petition the Constitutional Court to seek a ruling on whether the Referendum Act’s Section 61 violates the interim charter’s clause on freedom of expression.” Apparently, “the three Ombudsmen of Thailand voted unanimously Wednesday to forward the matter to the court by the end of this week.”
According to the Post, Section 61, which makes illegal a range of campaign “styles,” is seen as infringing “on people’s rights and freedoms. It could also be widely interpreted by officers and judges, due to the lack of definition of what constitutes ‘violent’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘inciting’ words or behaviour…”. The Office of the Ombudsman agreed “on the lack of clarity regarding the terms used in Section 61…”.
It is now for the politicized Constitutional Court to decide if it will look at the Ombudsman’s petition and, if it does, will rule on it.
Surprisingly, this move has worried pro-junta agents, who called for The Dictator to use his emergency powers under Article 44 to get around this “threat.”
However, General Prayuth Chan-ocha has rejected this call, instead saying “it is up to the court to decide on the matter, and if the court rules that the law is not in line with the interim charter, the referendum will have to be deferred.” He added: “If the referendum is to be postponed, don’t blame me. Just ask the court…”.
Puppet Constitution Drafting Committee chair Meechai Ruchupan dismissed the challenge, saying the “referendum is unlikely to be derailed by the matter.” Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that all the Ombudsman wanted was for the Constitutional Court to clarify the terms in Section 61. He said that any changes to the law as a result would not derail the referendum.
Given Prayuth’s stated determination to stay on “until peace has been fully returned to the country,” any postponement or scrapping of the referendum would simply continue his hold on power.