The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) has announced detailed regulations governing online campaigns along with severe penalties for violations. Some MP candidates say they will follow the rules, but Chaturon Chaisang has criticized them.
One day after the publication of the Royal Decree on the general election of MPs and the official election schedule on 23 January 2019, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) announced red-tape regulations on online campaigning.
MP candidates and political parties can campaign online through websites, social media, YouTube, apps, email, SMS, and all other electronic means, according to the regulations. But before doing so, they must complete a form detailing the channel and time of their campaigns, and hand over all material and attachments to the ETC.
MP candidates must file a request with the ECT provincial offices while political parties must do so with the ECT secretariat. The ECT may allow online requests via email or other means as the regulations allow. If a campaign message is altered or sent without informing the ECT, the ECT has the authority contact the service providers to delete the item.
The cost of this will be covered by the political parties and MP candidates. If the damages are irreversible, the ECT may start an investigation which may result in suspension of election or re-election, deprivation of the right to be a candidate for one year, or a maximum penalty of six months in jail for MP candidates.
Since the regulations came into effect, a number of MP candidates, including Sudarat Keyuraphan and Samart Kaewmeechai of the Pheu Thai Party, and Lt Preechapol Pongpanich, Ton na Ranong and Worawat Ua-apinyakul of the Thai Raksa Chart Party announced that they will post only non-campaign messages. Meanwhile, Chaturon Chaisang criticized the ECT on his Facebook page on 23 January:
“I have been advised not to campaign, to stop giving comments, or even to close my page. I would like to inform everyone that I am ready to obey the law completely, but must insist on the right to freedom of expression.
Therefore, I will continue to keep this page open and give comments. Tomorrow I will begin by criticizing the ECT.”
On 24 January 2019, as promised, he published several posts on Facebook. Chaturon asks if all his past posts on election issues that he published before candidate registration are considered as part of his campaign.
He also said that the ETC regulations require TV and radio stations to give equal access to all parties, so asked if that meant that every programme on the election had to have representatives from each of the dozens of parties expected to register for the election.