The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) wishes to congratulate the people of Thailand for turning out in large numbers to exercise their democratic right in a peaceful and orderly manner. Further, ANFREL wishes to compliment the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for their management of the General Elections on July 3rd 2011. ANFREL also wishes to acknowledge the contribution of all of the Electoral Supporting Organizations such as the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Education as well as the Thai Post, Thai Airways, and the Royal Thai Police. Given the tense political situation in the country, the ECT performed admirably to manage a process that has produced election results that generally seem to reflect the will of the people. After years of political turmoil and violence that have divided the country, Thailand’s citizens have voted and, no matter their political views, been able to express their political opinion in a peaceful and orderly way based on the rule of law.
Mr. Damaso Magbual, ANFREL’s Head of Mission, agreed when he said that “The election period, in particular Election Day on July 3rd, was managed well and without any major incident which would call into question the election’s results. Where problems and complaints exist, ANFREL encourages the ECT and all involved stakeholders to thoroughly investigate these cases and administer justice in a professional, objective, and timely manner.”
The campaign period leading up to the vote saw heated debates, numerous allegations of vote-buying, and isolated cases of electoral violence that are currently under investigation. Vote buying and the detrimental effect of money politics remains a long term challenge for Thailand. Electoral violence was seen in some areas across the country both before the 3rd as well as on election day. A number of canvassers and candidates were attacked and reports of intimidation were not uncommon.
ANFREL has significant concerns with regard to the advance voting day on June 26th. The use of 2007’s non-resident advance voter list as a foundation for this election disenfranchised between 500,000 and 1 million people. “Advance voter lists should be based only on those voters registering for advance voting during that election cycle,” offered Mr. Magbual. The ECT did not sufficiently inform voters of the need to re-register in 2011 through its voter education. To date, this issue is the most substantial problem encountered regarding election administration.
Secondly, the change from two days to only one for advance voting also left some of the larger voting centers in urban areas overwhelmed by queues and traffic long enough to dissuade busy voters. Both problems can be addressed and ANFREL hopes to see the new government consider both issues in the near future to avoid a repeat of such problems in the future.
The pre-election period also included a discussion of the ECT’s printing of more than 12% excess ballots. The ECT made a commendable effort to openly respond to complaints and questions on this issue, but did not explain why they seem to violate the relevant regulation that allows at most 7% excess ballots. As Mr. Magbual explained, “violations of the electoral law by an electoral management body such as the ECT are always regrettable because they lower the perceived legitimacy of the election and can damage the perception of neutrality and competence that the public has for the institution.” ANFREL encourages the ECT to clarify to the public the reasons for printing such a large percentage of excess ballots.
Regarding polling station staff, the role of village leaders (phuyaibahn) working or congregating at polling stations is worth noting because of the influence such leaders have. “In many countries within Asia, village chiefs are kept from working at polling stations because the enormous influence they command can unfairly sway voters,” explained Mr. Magbual. ANFREL observed many examples of phuyaibahn with compromised neutrality that were canvassers for political parties during the pre-election period.
After discovering many polling stations without any observers or party agents and knowing that observation plays an important role in providing electoral transparency, ANFREL wishes to encourage Thai civil society and political parties to play a more active and constructive role in strengthening the democratic process by engaging in more observation during the elections.
ANFREL was encouraged to find that the military generally acted professionally and neutrally throughout the election period. Some exceptions to this were instances where soldiers coming to vote brought their weapons inside polling stations in clear violation of internationally accepted principles. Partisan political statements by certain prominent military gave cause for concern. Going forward, it is hoped that the military will continue to exercise the professional restraint they showed on election day by allowing legitimately elected leaders to govern.
Regarding political actors accepting election outcomes, ANFREL is encouraged by Prime Minister Abhisit and the Democrat Party’s acceptance of election results when they conceded defeat to Pheu Thai on the night of the election. PM Abhisit should be commended for the graciousness of his move.
In the spirit of helping to consolidate the aspects of the electoral process to date and because every election has areas for improvement, ANFREL wishes to offer some constructive recommendations based on the observations of 60 observers working in the field. These recommendations are attached to the Preliminary Statement. ANFREL will continue to observe the electoral process in particular the finalization of and reactions to results and the complaints and appeals process. Both the preliminary findings and the recommendations will be further substantiated in a Final Report.
“Generally, despite some flaws, the election period to this point was orderly and provided the people a means through which to have their voices heard,” concluded Mr. Magbual.