Constitutional amendment campaign faces delay as ECT rejects online signatures

The campaign to petition for a constitutional amendment referendum faces potential delay as the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) told the petitioners, just hours after the petition gained the required number of signatures, that online forms will not be accepted and all 50,000 must be collected on paper.

A protester marching in the 14 August protest holding a pamphlet about the constitutional amendment referendum campaign.

The campaign was launched both online and offline on 13 August by a network of civil society organisations and activist groups called the People’s Constitution Drafting Group. It aimed to collect 50,000 signatures to call for a referendum on whether the 2017 Constitution should be entirely amended by an elected Constituent Assembly.

By yesterday evening (22 August), the petition had received over 53,800 signatures. Hours later, however, the legal watchdog NGO iLaw, a member of the network, said that they had been informed by Weera Yiprae, deputy secretary-general of the ECT, that online forms would not be accepted, rendering over 40,000 of the signatures void.

The network sent a letter to the ECT on 24 November 2022, asking whether collecting signatures to call for a referendum could be done online.  There are no regulations on how signatures should be collected beyond stipulations that they include a person’s full name, citizen ID number, and signature. Network representatives never received a clear answer.

Before the campaign launch, the network contacted the ECT again, but did not receive a reply. The ECT instead asked them to meet for a discussion, a meeting which was repeatedly postponed. The ECT finally met with network representatives yesterday (22 August) and informed them that all signatures must be collected on paper and not online.

The ECT told the network that, because it is an independent organisation not covered by the 2022 Act on Electronic Performance of Administrative Functions, it cannot accept printouts of online forms. Petitions proposing legislations can be signed online, however.

Weera also claimed that the ECT replied to the same question when asked by the Move Forward party in March 2023 and that the answer was also published on the ECT website.  iLaw reports that it has not been able to find the said document.

The ECT said that anyone wishing to petition for a referendum must scan all signed forms and put the information into a spreadsheet. They are then required to submit a PDF of the scans and the spreadsheet to the ECT on a CD, along with the forms. The ECT will then take another 30 days to check the list of signatures. The network contends that the process has been made overly complicated for members of the public to exercise their rights.

iLaw manager Yingcheep Atchanont said that the network does not agree with the ECT’s decision but still plans to file the petition. He asked the public to once again help them to reach the goal of a new Constitution drafted by an elected Constituent Assembly.

The network said that it still hopes to submit the petition before the first cabinet meeting and asked anyone who signed the petition online, along with others who have not signed, to find the closest signature collection location and sign the petition in person. They can also print out a form themselves and deliver it to iLaw or the closest location before 20.00 on Friday (25 August).

Any Thai citizen who is eligible to vote may sign the petition and can now do so at 255 locations in 55 provinces, including iLaws office. Anyone may also sign up to organise signature gatherings.

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