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Thailand ramps up referendum campaign with songs, TV shows

By Reuters/Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat   July 21, 2016 | 12:15 am PT
"Everyone has the same rights" and "Come together to the referendum... Thai folks have fun," run the lyrics of the song.

Less than three weeks away from a hotly awaited constitutional referendum, Thailand's military government is scrambling to drum up support, broadcasting songs and television programs in a vigorous public relations campaign.

The military, which took power from an elected government in May 2014, says its draft constitution will ensure stability in a country rocked by political turmoil and military takeovers for more than a decade.

But critics, including major political parties, say the draft will give the military broad powers over future elected governments.

It is one of several songs about the Aug. 7 vote, including one sanctioned by the Election Commission, aired on public radio while members of a junta-appointed panel tour Thailand to discuss the merits of the constitution they helped to draft.

Another public relations effort, a television program called "Know about the Referendum", is set to air soon, said government spokesman Major General Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

"This is the last phase before the referendum, so we want to inform people through television in the mornings and evenings," Sansern told Reuters, without specifying a date.

Opponents of the draft, from student and civil society groups to political parties, called on Wednesday for open debate on the constitution.

"We want the government to open a space for the public to express their thoughts," said lecturer and analyst Gothom Arya, speaking on behalf of one group, the Platform of Concerned Citizens.

"Those for and against the draft should be able to air their views," he told Reuters.

The government effort comes as it clamps down on critics of the military, with measures such as a law that sets 10-year jail terms for campaigning ahead of the referendum.

For more than a decade, Thailand has been divided between rival camps, one led by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup before fleeing abroad.

Ranged against him is the royalist and military establishment, which accuses Thaksin of poisoning Thai politics with nepotism and corruption.

There are around 50 million eligible voters in Thailand. The Election Commission has said it expects an 80 percent turnout for the referendum.

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