BANGKOK — The Foreign Minister denied Tuesday he is barring international election observers from next year’s election while an expert monitor says the regime is worried about unflattering reports.
Don Pramudwinai, who recently expressed opposition to the idea, said inviting monitors is up to the Election Commission, an ostensibly independent body that has been noncommittal so far. He suggested that untrained observers could watch things.
“If you are not satisfied or don’t trust Thais, let the foreign embassies in Thailand do it. This should suffice. There is no need to bring in more foreigners. Having Thais participate will instill awareness. It’s the country’s dignity. We cannot allow others in all the time. How can foreign countries be more able than us in everything?” Don said.
Veteran election observer Pongsak Chanon said Tuesday that foreign diplomats and embassy staff cannot replace trained observers. He called on election officials and the Foreign Ministry to clear the way for international observers.
“Diplomats or state officials are not election observers. They do not have the expertise. I think [the military regime] is worried about interference, that reports will damage the country’s reputation,” said Pongsak, who is Thailand’s country coordinator for the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections, or ANFREL.
ANFREL has observed numerous Thai elections over the years and certified them as free and fair. For the vote now set for late February, the network wants to deploy more than 70 Asian observers, pending commission approval, Pongsak said.
“We need two months to prepare for proper election observation,” Pongsak said, adding that the network would ideally be given the green light sometime next week so long-term observers can be selected and deployed,” Pongsak said.
The commission, which in previous cycles has been dogged by accusations of political interference, has created or proposed a slew of unprecedented rules for what would be the first vote in nearly five years. Just today it said it would ditch a pan to strip party identification from voters’ ballots after an outcry.
Attempts to get a clear response Tuesday on its position about international observers failed. Yet new calls have been issued by members of different political parties including the two largest, Democrat and Pheu Thai.
Reached by phone Tuesday, the commission’s deputy secretary general, Nat Laosisawakul, said he has no clue about the matter and it’s not one of his responsibilities. Attempts to reach the secretary general, police Lt. Gen. Charungwit Phumma, were unsuccessful as of publication time.