Thai junta orders forces to campaign for referendum

Bangkok, July 31:

Thailand’s junta leader has ordered the nation’s 700,000 security officers to encourage people to vote in a constitutional referendum next month, officials said today.

General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who seized power in a coup last September, has ordered members of the armed services and the counter-insurgency Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) to join the government’s campaign urging voters to take part, a spokesman said.

“Basically, we educate them about the new charter, partly to prevent them from being misled by others about the constitution,” ISOC spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsang told AFP.

Thailand is set to hold its first-ever referendum on August 19 to vote on a military-backed constitution, which the junta says will pave the way for general elections before the end of the year.

The military wants to win a healthy majority of votes in order to legitimise its ouster of twice-elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, but has reserved the power to impose a constitution if it fails at the ballot box.

The ISOC, which was created in the 1960s to fight communist insurgents, has an especially wide network in rural areas, where it has ties with local leaders and informants.

Thanathip insisted the military was not trying to convince people to approve the charter, but simply to educate them about it.