BANGKOK — Election Commission sec-gen Jarungvith Phumma on Thursday denied the criticism that the agency appears to be neglecting the local elections for administrative posts across Thailand, set to take place on Dec. 2.
Critics charged that the commission is not campaigning enough for people to go vote, the long awaited election is not getting much publicity, and no debate is planned for candidates to show their visions in public forums. Jarungvith countered that his detractors fail to see the real situation on the ground.
“You must go to the provinces to see what’s happening,” Jarungvith said. “We have cells in each province and they are campaigning.”
He also confirmed that no debates will be held by the Election Commission, since there is no budget to support them. The commissioner said he expected that up to 70-75 percent of eligible voters would cast their votes.
Residents outside Bangkok will elect the chief executives of their respective Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO) and its council members on Dec 20 – the first such vote since local elections were suspended by coup leaders in 2014.
Pongsak Chanon, advisor of We Watch, a poll watch group, said he’s worried that the level of awareness in the upcountry may be too low.
“I am concerned about the campaign to educate the electorate to make them understand the importance of local elections,” Pongsak said. “Unlike national elections, the EC is not campaigning to make the society aware. The local elections were made to become unimportant.”
He added, “Well, this may be partly due to attention given to the on-going anti-government protests by the media. I fear that an opportunity is being lost.”
“We Watch will do what we can to help campaign for people to go out and vote,’’ Pongsak said.
Klaikong Vaidhyakarn is an executive committee member of Progressive Movement which is fielding nearly a thousand candidates in the local elections in 42 provinces. He urged the Election Commission to promote the elections more by holding publicity activities.
“Public relations through the media is rather limited. The Election Commission must answer this,” Klaikong said. “What the EC should do now is to campaign for people to go vote. Many work in other provinces and there’s no early voting at this time.”
He said another point of potential confusion is the two ballot papers to be used on the day of voting: one ballot for PAO chief executive and another for members of provincial administration organization council.
The Progressive Movement itself is under an ongoing investigation by the Election Commission for its association with the now-disbanded Future Forward Party.
The commission accused the group of breaching election laws by posing as a political party. Jarungvith said he has assigned a team to study whether there are sufficient causes to charge the Progressive Movement leaders; a recommendation will be made within 20 days.
But Klaikong denied that Progressive Movement, led by Future Forward’s former chairman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is breaking any laws.
“Many local groups are fielding candidates as well and they are not political parties either,” Klaikong said. “We don’t cite any political party in our activities. We are not a political party.”
In February, Thanathorn and 16 other Future Forward executives, including Klaikong, were banned from holding political office for 10 years per a court verdict that found the party guilty of violating election laws.
The court said Future Forward breached voting laws by accepting a 191 million baht loan from Thanathorn, who was also the party founder. The loan was considered a donation in excess of 10 million baht allowed to be made to a political party within a period of one year under the law.
If the Progressive Movement is found guilty of misrepresenting itself as a political party, violators could face up to three year imprisonment term and a fine up to 60,000 baht. The group leaders could also be banned from politics for five years.