Thai Election Commission urged to facilitate discussion on Internet

2011.06.16 23:06

BANGKOK, June 16 (Xinhua) — Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) should facilitate and protect citizen’s discussion regarding the upcoming national election on the Internet, and not obstruct it, Thai media activists said on Thursday.

Arthit Suriyawonkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network, a network of Thai Internet users, said as a considerable number of Thai citizens have enjoyed discussing the general election on the Internet, EC should not issue regulation that does not comply with the nature of the Internet and social network.

Thailand’s general election is set on July 3, after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved the House of Representatives in early May.

Arthit addressed at a seminar entitled “Online media: limitation of election campaigning and discussion regarding the election”, organized by Chulalongkorn University’s faculty of Political Science, at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

The conventional ways used by Thai political parties in campaigning are attaching about 1.30 x 2.30 metre posters to polls along the street, visiting voters in various communities and setting up a big stage to address to voters.

However, as politicians moving on to the new realm of political campaigning, the EC’s regulation seems to be obsolete.

Thai political parties are moving fast into the new frontier of election campaigning. Several twitter accounts and Facebook pages of political parties and MP candidates were created. For example, @ PouYingluck is an official twitter account of Yingluck Shinnawatra, female prime minister candidate from the Phue Thai party, while Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has @Abhisit_DP to “tweet” about his activities each day.

While Abhisit stated that he did not tweet himself, Yingluck said she regularly tweets herself as to have two-way communication with voters on social media.

“The upcoming election is the first election that new media play an important role [in campaigning],” said Prab Boonpran, managing editor of Thai news paper Matichon.

There exist two main controversial EC regulations. First is that political parties will have to declare expense used in election campaigning. Second is that political parties shall not campaign, speak, or send any message to the public after 6 p.m. of the election eve, July 5.

The questions arose as to how the EC shut down or block or prohibit citizens from accessing the materials posted by election campaigners on the Internet. For example, twitter users can still “retweet” or reproduce Yingluck’s messages on twitter, although it is later than 6 p.m. of election eve.

Questions arose as social media experts question that it is difficult to calculate the expense of online campaigning. Moreover, how will the EC prohibit online discussion about election on the Internet?

“How does EC have the authority to control personal communication [between citizens] on the Internet?” asked the Thai Netizen coordinator.

“What the EC should do is not to worry about how citizens exercise the online forum, but to protect the forum as to allow it to serve the spirit of the election,” Arthit said.

Arthit gave examples of Independent online news website ” Malaysiakini” which was attacked shortly before the latest election day in Malaysia.

“When it comes to new media or the Internet, people usually say that it is the media that is limitless, but why people in Thailand keep talking about how to limit or regulate the Internet during election?” asked Chiranuch Premchaiporn, editor of an online independent newspaper Prachatai.

EC official Chorat Jitnaitham responded to the request from the Internet activists that the EC does not intend to control the Internet, and admit that the EC has not much equipped with appropriate regulation that is suitable to the nature of the Internet.

“We will see through it case by case,” the EC official said.

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