BANGKOK — The only accredited international observers present at the general election said Tuesday that the polls had been peaceful but not fair, because the incumbent prime minister – who is also a candidate – will handpick all senate members.
The Asian Network for Free Elections, or Anfrel, said the management of ballots at Sunday’s poll was “deeply flawed,” leading to the announcement of preliminary results that were “wildly inaccurate” and damaged the “perceived integrity of the general election.” Under the constitution, the junta headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will appoint all senators – who will also get to vote for the next premier.
Anfrel, said there was no reason to believe reporting problems affected the overall results, but that the pre-election context needs to be taken into consideration.
“You know. All of you know. It’s the legal framework. We can’t change that,” Rohana Hettiarachchie, Anfrel’s head of mission, replied when asked if the election had been rigged. “[Pre-election] is not met with the standard, but again … it’s a journey … not a democratic platform … I think it takes time.”
Thailand’s Election Commission has already defended the counting of votes in Sunday’s election, blaming the media’s failure to keep up with the raw data, and said full preliminary results would be released Friday.
A military-backed party and the party whose government was ousted in a 2014 coup both claim they should form the next government. The preliminary results show the anti-junta Pheu Thai Party won the most seats, while the military-backed Phalang Pracharath Party appeared to have gotten the most votes.
The confusing release of results was the main problem Anfrel noted on Election Day itself, becoming a concern after the count had been recorded at local polling stations and was then sent along to the Election Commission.
“Our understanding is it was technical difficulties or they overestimated the difficulty of the task,” said Amaël Vier, Anfrel’s program officer for capacity building and international elections. “We’d just like to know more, what was the procedure, what was the data? We have no reason to believe it affects the overall outcome, we just, we need more at this time.”
Anfrel’s 12-page report was sharply critical of the Election Commission’s performance, especially for its lack of transparency over the counting process but also for its alleged failure to provide sufficient and accurate information about the election to voters.
If voters trusted the system,” there may not be a question about the delay of the counting event,” said Anfrel Secretary-General Rohana Nishanta Hettiarachchie.
Anfrel’s report made no specific mention of serious allegations that had started circulating on social media about the number of ballots exceeding voters in some areas, and turnouts said to be twice the number of registered voters.
“Polling stations were found to be peaceful, orderly, and generally well-managed,” it said.
Thailand’s main poll-watching organizations have not yet publicly addressed most of the allegations.
Anfrel’s most serious criticism concerned the legal framework under which the election took place.
Many human rights and pro-democracy groups said before the election that Thailand’s constitution and election rules were unfairly set up to limit the power of elected politicians and ensure the continued dominance of the military and other traditionalist institutions.
Anfrel said the rules meant Thailand would have “a form of guided democracy rather than a fully-fledged democracy,” though it acknowledged the election was a step toward “genuine popular representation in governmental affairs.”
Story: Kaweewit Kaewjinda
Additional reporting: Pravit Rojanaphruk