Thailand sets up security centres ahead of referendum

BANGKOK • Thailand's military government has set up security centres around the country ahead of an August referendum on a new Constitution.

The centres are the latest measure rolled out by the government as the nation prepares to vote on a Constitution that critics fear will entrench the military's influence.

The draft of Thailand's 20th Constitution is to replace one scrapped after a 2014 coup by generals who promised stability in South-east Asia's second-biggest economy.

The Aug 7 referendum will be the first real rest of the junta's popularity since it took power.

A "Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order" has been set up in every one of Thailand's 76 provinces, said Major-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, spokesman for the Thai prime minister's office, in order to ensure "no cheating, no lobbying and no persuading people to vote one way or another".

Provincial governors will be responsible for assembling teams to join the centre, including police, troops and civilian volunteers.

"We need to ensure peace during the referendum so that people can decide how our country will move forward," Major-General Sansern told Reuters yesterday.

Last month, junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha and opposition supporters of ousted populist premier Thaksin Shinawatra both contacted the United Nations after an upsurge in political tension just a day after police shut down an electoral monitoring centre of the "red shirt" anti-government movement.

The red shirts say the centres are needed to prevent fraud.

Mr Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the red shirt movement, accused the government of double standards. "We weren't able to set up our monitoring centres, so why should the military government be allowed to set up their centres?

"The military government is blindfolding the electorate."

Under the proposed charter, a junta-appointed Senate with seats reserved for military commanders would check the powers of elected lawmakers for a five-year transitional period.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Thailand sets up security centres ahead of referendum'. Print Edition | Subscribe