By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — A regional election monitoring group based in Bangkok plans to field up to 10 people to observe the August charter referendum, while the European Union will sit it out.
If the political climate permits, the Asian Network for Free Elections will dispatch a limited number of monitors for the vote on the constitution written and promoted under military supervision, a process its executive director warns will lose credibility unless free discussion is guaranteed.
“After a very difficult debate, we’re approaching the Thai referendum cautiously,” said Ichal Supriadi. “We’re going to limit the number of observers to a maximum of 10. It may be reduced again depending on the pre-referendum environment.”
The network normally sends sends dozens of observers on each of their missions.
Supriadi said the matter has yet be finalized with the Election Commission and could change given the political situation.
For its part, the European Union’s mission in Bangkok confirmed Monday that no European observers will be sent as requested by some, such as leaders of the Redshirt movement.
Supriadi expressed concern about the level of freedom for Thais to debate and deliberate on the merits of the charter, given a law just enacted which threatens 10 years in prison to anyone found guilty of “distorting” its contents.
Comparing the charter to a product, he said people should be free to debate its quality.
“I think everybody should be able to speak about the referendum,” he said, adding that the freedoms of assembly and expression are essential for a free and fair vote.
The fact that political gatherings are still banned by the junta also undermines the credibility of any ballot, Supriadi said.
“I cannot imagine if different countries have different styles of referendum. It’s a wake-up call for the government and the Election Commission to ensure a more transparent referendum. It’s about the confidence and credibility of the process,” he said.
The observers from his organization, Supriadi said, would be drawn from different Asian nations and would arrive to begin their work a month prior to the referendum now slated for Aug. 7.
A veteran elections observer who asked not to be named claimed the European Union will send a few informal observers without formal accreditation.
In his understanding, formal approval for an E.U. delegation was not sought over concern about conditions which might be imposed by Thai authorities.
The press office for the European Union in Bangkok wrote Monday to confirm that it “does not look like there will be an election observation mission for the referendum to Thailand.”
The United States is “not aware of any request by Thai authorities for international observers,” according to embassy spokeswoman Melissa Sweeney.
Pongsak Chanon, chairman of We Watch Thailand, a local election observation network, said the group hopes to field 50 Thai observers for two months prior to the referendum.
No plan has been finalized and depends on whether they can obtain funding.
Pongsak said it would be helpful if the European Union and United Nations would send observers.
“It would be good. It would help deter the government from doing things that may not be transparent. They will hesitate from doing something blatantly,” Pongsak said.
Michael Bak, advisor to the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Thailand, said election observers would only be sent if the government of a member country made a request, or the Security Council to do so.
He added so far no request have been made by the military government of Thailand.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Michael Bak as United Nations Resident Coordinator. Bak is in fact advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator.