Thailand’s 24th March election a missed opportunity says Watchdog
The Asian Networks for Free and Fair Elections (ANFREL) released its mission report yesterday (June 21st) on Thailand’s recent general election saying it was a “missed opportunity for democracy” with the striking key words “free but not fair”.
The Bangkok-based international poll watchdog, whose members are from over 30 countries in Asia, was officially authorised to observe the general election by the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT).
After five years of unchecked military rule and successive election postponements, the people of Thailand finally had an opportunity to express their opinions, in what should have been a moment of collective exhilaration, says ANFREL’s mission report summary.
It went on to say that, despite keeping the promise to hold an election, Thai authorities failed to establish the healthy political climate that lies at the heart of a free and fair electoral process, claiming that all stages of the electoral process, from its inception to the announcement of results and beyond, were influenced to secure an electoral outcome that would not be too disruptive to the ruling establishment. The report places most blame on the legal framework for elections laid out in the controversial 2017 Constitution.
ANFREL explained that the legal framework limits the role of the people’s representatives, fails to provide for a democratically-elected government and introduces a unique form of guided democracy whereby an appointed Senate participates in the selection of the Prime Minister, defying the common understanding of what constitutes a parliamentary democracy.
The watchdog, however, said that the electoral campaign, political rallies and the use of social media to reach out to voters have provided Thais with a chance to voice concerns that they had long been unable to express in peaceful manner. Concern is expressed, however, over weakening civil society and media sector due to years of banned political activities and threats to freedom of expression.
It added that reports of vote-buying were received but it cannot be ascertained whether voters were actually influenced. It also expressed disappointment over the ECT’s “wildly inaccurate” announcement on immediate election results and lack of transparency in not allowing observers and the media to witness the handling of election results, which is one of the principles of transparency required for a truly democratic election.