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All eyes are now on August 19

The government is striving to encourage a large turnout for the August 19 referendum regardless of how voters pass judgement on the charter, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday.

Published on August 14, 2007

"The people can make their own decision and the government won't mind the outcome, be it an acceptance or rejection," he said.

He played down speculation about an influx of funds from abroad to be used to defeat the charter, claiming that people were more intent on getting politics back on course. "Only those familiar with buying their way into power would think about using money to rig the referendum's outcome," he said.

He voiced optimism that more than 70 per cent of voters would cast ballots, as predicted by opinion polls.

Meanwhile an aide said chief royal adviser General Prem Tinsulanonda was closely monitoring the run up to the vote out of concern about ill-intentioned elements trying to derail the referendum. "Prem remains on top of the situation," Vice Admiral Pajun Tampratheep said.

PM's Office Minister Thirapat Serirangsan said the government was willing to arrange a new round of debate on the charter this Friday if opponents and proponents wanted another televised venue to air their views. The previous debate took place on August 3.

Thirapat urged voters to make an effort in turning out for the ballot, voicing concern that many might stay home because they were certain of a successful referendum.

In order to dispel doubts about the outcome, more than 23 million votes, representing about half the eligible voters, should be cast, he said.

Interior Minister Aree Wongsearaya said he expected a turnout of more than 60 per cent. He said he had heard about the spread of funds to sway votes in Chiang Rai, although he did not expect voters to fall prey to such a scam. The money reportedly came from a casino in Burma, seen to be linked to an ousted politician.

Junta chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, meanwhile, asked government agencies to probe the allegation about the casino funds.

However, despite attempts by anti-coup groups to reject the draft, he was confident the charter draft would be approved in the referendum.

Former Thai Rak Thai MP Itthidet Kaewluang from Chiang Rai said the allegation about buying referendum votes was a smear designed to discredit the ousted government. "Ousted politicians are no longer in a position to exploit state mechanisms to spread money around and sway votes; I see that only soldiers are capable of doing such a thing," he said.

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