Opinion: How the Junta Rigged, Tweaked and Stole the Election

Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha at Government House on May 7, 2019.

The Election Commission has finally announced the 2019 election’s official results, more than a month after voting day. Now, we should ask whether the election was free and fair.

The answer will depend on your definition of legitimate and fair. After all, there is no shortage of people in Thailand defending military coups as a just and legitimate means of regime change.

My own take is that the March 24 election was only partially free and not at all fair.

The election was not free because for four years after the May 2014 coup, political parties were banned from engaging in political activities. Citizens were also forbidden from holding political gatherings of more than four people until late last year.

Until just a few months before March 24, the Thai political landscape was one of restriction, if not repression. Those opposed to the military junta were unable to freely prepare themselves, mobilize or articulate their causes.

The election was unfair because the rules governing it were drafted by people chosen by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who himself is competing as a PM candidate and poised to become prime minister again next month.

Some argue that the the junta-sponsored constitution passed a referendum in 2016. But approval came partly because rejecting the charter would have postponed elections even further, allowing Prayuth to continue on with absolute power indefinitely. Moreover, those who campaigned against the draft charter were again harassed, with some prosecuted for violating the ban on political gatherings.

Even the so-called “referees” of the 2019 election, the Election Commission, were chosen and approved by the junta-appointed rubber-stamp parliament, the National Legislative Assembly. Consequently, the election saw gerrymandering and a bizarre method for allocating party-list MP seats.

After voting concluded, the commission amended the previously announced formula for calculating the allocation of party-list seats and voila, the anti-junta camp is now no longer able to muster a simple majority. The 250-plus seats it was projected to collect has now been reduced to 245. Then there is the 250-member senate, with 244 senators appointed by Prayuth.

How can a game be fair when one player chooses the people who write the rules (the constitution and election laws), indirectly selects the referees (the Election Commission), and makes sure his team has extra players (250 senators who will join the 500 MPs in voting for the new prime minister)?

What kind of election is that? But in a country where some people confuse rule by the junta’s law for the rule of law, it’s not hard to imagine those groups calling the March 24 election free and fair.

To those who do accept the usurper coup makers though, the election was a way for the junta to conveniently masquerade itself as an elected and legitimate regime.

Some may wonder if the junta has no shame. Well, they had no qualms in usurping power by force in broad daylight nearly five years ago. Do not expect them to feel guilty for hatching an election where they had very little chance of losing.