Last night’s vote, which secured junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha another term in office, proved the process was rigged from the start.
Through electoral gerrymandering, relentless suppression of his critics, and blatant intervention in the voting process by the unelected upper house, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha defended his PM seat from upstart rival Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
His victory came two months after a particularly questionable election, even by Thai standards. Under the junta’s oversight, constituencies were remapped and an untested method for allocating party-list seats implemented – a formula that caused much confusion even for experienced poll observers.
Those new rules, which kept changing at the whim of junta-appointed election organizers, eventually paved the way for 11 small pro-military parties to enter parliament despite failing to win even 100,000 votes respectively. It didn’t take long before those parties announced their support for Gen. Prayuth, unmasking the intent that put them in parliament in the first place.
The election itself was a sorry affair. Campaigning was only permitted three months prior to the poll. Politicians opposing the junta were soon swamped in legal challenges, while similar complaints against the junta and its allied parties never went anywhere.
Dissidents who spoke out against what they believed to be a flawed election were also assaulted in broad daylight – sometimes even steps away from the court of law. Although the authorities continue to deny involvement, they have never undertaken serious efforts to catch the perpetrators, or thought to offer any protection to those dissidents.
The stage was set for Prayuth to return to power, after having granted himself the premiership five years ago in a military coup.
When the time to vote in a prime minister arrived, 250 appointed Senators decided to intervene and vote alongside the elected lawmakers (one of the 250, the Senate speaker, abstained from voting per tradition). The Senators were themselves a product of the junta-drafted 2017 constitution, which was approved in a referendum widely criticized as a one-sided race.
In a political farce that deserves a special place in history books, it was Prayuth himself who handpicked nearly every one of those Senators. The rest of the seats went to commanders of the armed forces – the very same positions responsible for bringing the current junta to power.
Prayuth and his aides insisted the Senators “have their own brains” and could decide who to vote for on their own volition. But their claim fell apart when all Senators shouted for “Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha” in a constant stream of approval when the vote was called, with the exception of the Senate Speaker who was required to abstain by tradition.
The junta’s attempt to lead us to believe 249 lawmakers from various backgrounds simply happened to share the same opinion is an insult to the intelligence of the Thai public, to put it mildly.
Prayuth’s brother, who enjoys a seat in the Senate, did not even bother to pretend at neutrality. When his turn came, Gen. Preecha Chan-ocha declared his vote for Prayuth instead of abstaining as custom would have held.
The ramifications of Gen. Prayuth’s attempt to hold on to his power will be felt for generations to come. It will offer a novel playbook for future coup-makers and showed voters that their choices do not matter – what power do ballots in election wield in the face of an unelected body set up by the junta?
Let’s call what happened last night what it really was: a sham.