Thai Election Gets Messy Start Overseas, Voters Complain

At left, Thais in Malaysia use cardboard boxes to vote Saturday in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Muhammad Sasu / Facebook. At right, long lines outside the embassy on the same day.
At left, Thais in Malaysia use cardboard boxes to vote Saturday in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Muhammad Sasu / Facebook. At right, long lines outside the embassy on the same day.

BANGKOK — Election officials are on the defensive after overseas voters complained angrily about a raft of problems including missing ballots, incorrect candidate information and poor voting facilities.

Two weeks before polls open at home, #OverseasVoting was trending atop Thai Twitter on Monday with many comments slamming the Election Commission and diplomatic missions for mismanaging early voting.

“Student body elections at school look more organized than this election,” Twitter user @Litentoyou wrote.

Criticism blew up after a student in China tweeted Saturday about the obstacles to voting, including a ballot that didn’t come until nearly a week after voting began. The student said more than 500 voters registered to vote in Shanghai hadn’t received them at all.

“This election is the most transparent ever,” @TheKopfer wrote, sarcastically.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry said the problems reported in China were due to missing voter contact information, adding that all but five voters in Shanghai had received their ballots by Sunday.

“I [dislike] this commission the most. Salaries so high, but they work sloppily, like children,” @Newthinkkn wrote. “They spent 12 million to study elections in other countries and look what happened.”

Dissatisfaction over widespread reported mishaps fed existing concerns about the commission’s ability to stage a credible election at home in just two weeks. It comes days after it invited scorn by canceling important meetings because six members were traveling abroad at a cost of about 12 million baht.

Muangphum Hansiriphet, who heads a Thai student association in Nanjing, called online for an investigation into problems there. He said that while helping the consulate locate voters, he learned information entered by voters in online registration forms had gone missing or become unreadable when the commission submitted it to the diplomatic mission.

The Thai Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was forced to open Sunday for additional voting because it couldn’t accommodate the thousands who turned up the prior day. Many voters complained of waiting for hours and questioned why the commission couldn’t do better despite knowing how many people would vote.

Officials were shown using cardboard boxes to set up makeshift voting booths in photos posted online, reportedly because they didn’t receive enough from the commission, further stoking public outrage.

Without commenting on the cause of the problem, head commissioner Jarungvith Phumma said using a cardboard box was not illegal. He said it just didn’t “look very pleasant.”

He also said the commission was looking into several complaints regarding confusing documents listing candidates and their numbers for voters in London and New York.

Photos of the documents show some of the candidates names and photos did not appear next to their party names. For example, Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, who heads the Democrat Party’s youth wing, did not appear next to his party’s name. Instead it appeared above a candidate for the pro-establishment People Progressive Party.

Parit called for the commission to fix the issue because it might confuse voters.

“This error isn’t limited only to me but other candidates from other parties,” he said. “Every vote is valuable. … I hope the Election Commission and other related agencies take responsibility for this case.”

Nearly 82,000 people have registered to vote overseas, according to the commission. The vote is closing on March 16.