CHIANG MAI – The political temperature has risen further in Northern Thailand after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha exercised the power of Article 44 to suspend Boonlert Buranupakorn, president of the Chiang Mai Provincial Administrative Organisation, from duty yesterday.
The move was believed to be the result of raids on local government offices in Chiang Mai and a company owned by the family of a well-known politician on Saturday, during which security officers found copies of letters “distorting” the draft charter content.
The Royal Gazette yesterday published the National Council for Peace and Order chief’s order announcing the fifth list of officials facing investigation.
“Security officials have found that state officials at some local administrative organisations may have committed offences related to the referendum law and the matter must be handled urgently to prevent it from disturbing peace and order or incurring damage to the state,” the statement said.
Boonlert, who is on an overseas trip, is suspended from duty without pay until the order is revoked. The order also said that officials should expedite the probe and report to the prime minister if they find that Boonlert is innocent.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he had ordered the chief of Provincial Police Region 5 to issue arrest warrants for “five big politicians” if they are found to be linked to the allegedly distorted charter draft letters found in Northern provinces.
“We will take action in accordance with the evidence. I do not know if the evidence links to national politicians,” Prawit said.
Police are trying to find other people who are involved.
Provincial Police Region 5 Commissioner Pol Lt-General Thanitsak Theerasawat said they would gather evidence to ensure the cases were handled in accordance with due process.
“We will take action against those involved from the lower levels to the masterminds. Right now we have found three groups involved including the masterminds, publishers and those who delivered the documents,” he said.
Police have also identified suspects who deposited the documents in post boxes in Chiang Mai after they inspected fingerprints left on the envelopes, checked security cameras and identified several people who allegedly carried out the act. Police, military officers and local officials are searching for the suspects in Lamphun and Lampang.
Thanitsak said some evidence linked close aides of the “famous” family to the “distorted” charter letters, but police still have to collect more evidence before pressing charges.
She has not been charged with a crime.
Police said four of the people arrested were all from the same group, which allegedly put the documents in envelopes and delivered them.
Wissarut Kunanitisarn, who has been charged with delivering the letters, has sought a temporarily release on bail and will apparently become a witness in the case after he voluntarily applied to join a witness protection programme.
The fifth suspect, Samart Kwanchai, who allegedly distributed 407 leaflets with the message “Damn Dictatorship and Long Live Democracy, August 7 Vote No”, was not from the same group, according to police. Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) chairman Meechai Ruchupan expressed concern that opponents of the draft may resort to “dirty tactics” 10 days before the referendum.
“They have staged such campaigns even before we finished the draft.
“We think it is not fair to distort content of the draft to mislead the public. They have dirty minds to cheat the public,” he said.
Meechai said the CDC was working to the best of its ability and hoped people would pass the draft, adding he would rather not evaluate his work.
“We drafted the charter with an honest intention to steer the country on a peaceful path,” he said.
Meechai said a statement circulating in public – “If you want ‘Lung Tu’ [Prayut] to stay in power, vote down the draft” – was causing a misunderstanding.
“This is misleading because if the charter draft is rejected, ‘Lung Tu’ will leave faster because people will rally to oust him. If the charter draft is rejected, the reform procedures will be in disarray,” Meechai said.