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Thailand suspends TV channel linked to Thaksin ahead of poll

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A pedestrian walking past a campaign poster for the Thai Raksa Chart party featuring leader Preechaphol Pongpanit (left), and member Chaturon Chaisang in Bangkok on Monday.

Bangkok

THAILAND'S telecoms regulator on Tuesday suspended the operating licence of a television channel linked to ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra weeks ahead of a general election, citing national security concerns.

Two programmes on Voice TV, Tonight Thailand and Wake Up News, spread information that caused public confusion and divisiveness, said the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), without elaborating.

"The NBTC ordered Voice TV to improve itself with a suspension of the operating licence for 15 days," said Perapong Manakit, one of the commissioners.

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The March 24 election, pitting pro-military and royalist Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha against a populist movement led by Thaksin and his followers, will be the first since a military coup in 2014 and comes amid concerns over the junta's attempts to crack down on opponents.

Voice TV is owned by two children of Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and who has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid corruption charges he says were politically motivated.

Reuters news reported Takorn Tantasith, the regulator's secretary-general, as saying that the violation was against television broadcasting laws, particularly a section that concerns national security and peace and order.

Some of the episodes mentioned in a copy of the NBTC order, published by Voice TV, featured interviews with two prime minister candidates from Thaksin's Pheu Thai party.

Voice TV has previously been shut down twice, two days before the 2014 coup, which brought down Thaksin's sister, then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and in 2017.

Its chief executive, Mekin Petchplai, called the order "unfair", and said the channel would appeal and demand more than 100 million baht (S$4.3 million) in damages.

"When the country is heading towards an election in a few weeks, (this) should stop because the people need quality, well-rounded news to inform their decisions on the vote," said Mr Mekin.

Meanwhile Thailand's Election Commission (EC) is reported to have recommended on Tuesday afternoon that the Thai Raksa Chart Party be dissolved for allegedly drawing the monarchy into politics, but the EC president later told the Bangkok Post that the decision was yet to be finalised.

The EC was reported to have voted to ask the Constitutional Court to disband the party for committing an act deemed hostile to the system of constitutional monarchy by nominating Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya as its candidate for prime minister.

The offence falls under the 2018 Political Parties Act, and the EC decision would be sent to the Constitutional Court.

If the court agreed with an EC decision to disband Thai Raksa Chart, its 13 executives would be barred from politics - voting and running for elections - either for 10 years or for life.

Although the punishment would not apply to party candidates who are not executives, the party's dissolution would mean that none of its candidates can run in the upcoming election.

The election law requires a candidate to belong to a party for at least 90 days before the election, leaving them with no time to switch.

However, they could hope to run in the next election.

But if the court dissolves the party linked to Thaksin after the election, its MPs will have 30 days to apply to new parties.