BANGKOK — An ad-hoc network of unofficial referendum monitors was launched Monday by six organizations in a last-minute bid to scrutinize this coming weekend’s public poll on the junta-sponsored charter draft.
The network drawn from the media, academics and legal advocates said their concerns about the transparency and credibility of Sunday’s referendum were compounded by the absence of accredited Thai observers, the banning of exit polls and the use of a privately developed smartphone app to report the results.
“It has opened room for murkiness,” Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of pro-democracy online news site Prachatai, of the Rapid Report application which will be used for the first time and will only report 95 percent of the total vote on Sunday.
Prachatai is one of the six organizations which have organized as the Referendum Watch Network.
The head of the Election Commission department responsible for carrying out the vote said only 95 percent will be reported to avoid any discrepancy with the traditional counting system, which will be made public by Wednesday.
The Rapid Report app is expected to provide unofficial results by no later than 7:30pm on Sunday.
Also part of the Referendum Watch Network are Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, domestic election monitoring group We Watch, the Thai Center for Investigative Journalism, Human Rights Lawyers Association and legal reform advocacy group Internet Law Reform Dialogue, aka iLaw.
Chiranuch questioned by exit polling was banned, saying it only served to cast doubt on the transparency and reliability of the results.
“Normally there would be exit polls, and we can counter-check the results somewhat,”she said.
Yingcheep Atchanont, project manager at iLaw, said the media should ask why exit polls won’t be permitted.
“I would not demand the media [conduct exit polls], which is illegal,” Yingcheep said. “But I ask that the media post questions on the subject.”
Trying to allay concerns the network might be biased because its members opposed the 2014 coup, Eakpant Pindavanija, director of the Mahidol institute, said they are acting on ethical imperatives and have no interest in distorting things.
“We do still have our principles, and we’re impartial when it comes to our professions as we have our codes of conduct,” Eakpant said.
Furthermore, he added, the groups tried to win accreditation from the Election Commission, but were denied on a questionable technicality.
We Watch has 30 trained election observer volunteers. They encouraged anyone to send in video or text reporting any alleged irregularities, including whether soldiers have entered polling stations.
They are promoting use of the hashtag #ส่องประชามติ (monitoring referendum) while those not literate in Thai can send messages to Prachatai or iLaw via their Facebook pages.