Sudarat stunt spurs political ban warning

Sudarat stunt spurs political ban warning

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon threatened yesterday to delay lifting a years-long ban on political activities after one party was accused of exploiting the recent one-year anniversary of the passing of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Photographs emerged yesterday of Pheu Thai Party heavyweight Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan standing in the bed of a running pickup truck equipped with speakerphones and a large sign bearing her full name on Sunday.

Khunying Sudarat took flak on social media for engaging in what she claimed was a public campaign, not a political one, encouraging people to plant marigolds as a way of showing their respect for the late King, who passed away on Oct 13, 2016.

The flower is associated with Monday, the day on which the highly revered late King was born.

Many social media users vented their frustration over the politician’s role in the activity carried out in the Lat Pla Khao area of Bangkok. Some accused her of turning it into a soft political campaign.

When quizzed on the topic yesterday, Gen Prawit, who also serves as defence minister, said he had already warned parties to refrain from any provocative action this month.

“If that happens again, [the ban] should be put on hold. No relaxation. No political unlocking,” he said.

Rumours swirled last week that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) may be about to life the ban.

Parties want the ban lifted as soon as an organic law on political parties has taken effect.

They say they need to convene party executives, as required under the new law, and take other steps quickly to meet the election deadline of November 2018.

Asked if Khunying Sudarat’s action on Sunday was a veiled political stunt, Gen Prawit described it as “improper” and said the NCPO will discuss the matter with her.

Shortly after he made these remarks, Khunying Sudarat called a press conference to defend herself.

A group of people identified as members of a committee that organised the so-called marigold planting activity in Lat Pla Khao on Sunday said the negative feedback concerned them as it suggested people had misinterpreted the event.

Khunying Sudarat insisted the truck in the pictures was not intended as a vehicle for an election campaign and the motorcycles running alongside it were not driven by police officers but volunteers.

The teary-eyed Pheu Thai figure was adamant she was paying devotion to the late King Rama IX.

“I don’t think it’s right to say any particular professional isn’t allowed to show his or her loyalty [to the late King],” she said.

“I apologise for causing this misunderstanding and I insist I have no hidden political agenda,” she said.

She said she was prepared to answer any of the NCPO’s questions but that it would be wrong to link this issue with the ban on political activities.

When asked if she would take legal action against those who had compromised her reputation by posting “distorted” photos of her on social media, Khunying Sudarat said she did not want to engage in lengthy disputes as the photos would likely be re-posted.