ANFREL issues a report on election; calls for transparency

Yesterday (27 March), the Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL) issued an interim report on the 2019 general election, calling for all issues in the election process to be addressed promptly. Meanwhile, the US and French embassies also issued statements calling for a transparent process of publishing the results and investigating election irregularities.

ANFREL fielded an International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) for over 45 days, monitoring both the campaign and polling. ANFREL was the only foreign organization accredited to launch an election observation mission, and will be issuing a comprehensive Mission Report a month after the publication of the final election results.

While ANFREL recognizes the popular effort and desire to re-establish democratic processes after years of military rules and notes that this election is the first step towards “genuine popular representation in government affairs,” it also highlighted several issues.

ANFREL acknowledges that the campaign environment was “generally peaceful” but it also noted that the campaign environment was heavily tilted in favour of the NCPO and its candidates. The report also notes that the legal framework for this election “contains a variety of undemocratic provisions which tilt the electoral playing field” in favour of the NCPO’s continuation of power. It also notes that the legal framework does not include all Thai citizens in the electoral process, since members of the Buddhist clergy, detainees, and stateless persons are still not able to participate in the election, and ANFREL would like the country to do more to “protect and defend the rights of these deserving potential voters.”

The report acknowledges the difficulties during overseas voting and early voting, from overseas voting ballots being delivered late to long queues in early voting. On the 1542 ballots from New Zealand, which were deemed invalid because they were not delivered to their respective constituencies on time, ANFREL said that this is a disappointment for overseas voters who were disenfranchised because of a lack of planning, and that “it is the duty of the ECT and its partners to ensure that every Thai citizen has access to the fundamental right of expressing their choice through the ballot box.”

And while the report acknowledges the media’s activities during the election, it noted that both the media and individuals face restrictions to the expression of their political views and opinions. Representatives of the media and civil society groups interviewed by ANFREL observers said that there is a normalization of self-censorship in the society. ANFREL also found that CSOs and NGOs are forced by the polarized political environment and legal provisions against defamation to censor some of their statements.

ANFREL invites the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) to release comprehensive election results as soon as possible and calls for the ECT to “conduct its electoral dispute resolution activities without delay and in a transparent and fair manner.”

Diplomatic missions have also issued statements calling for transparency from the ECT. On 25 March, the EU issued a statement saying that “we look forward to the announcement of the election results as soon as possible. It is also important that any reported irregularities are resolved swiftly and transparently.”

On 26 March, the U.S Embassy in Bangkok released a statement by the U.S. Department of State on the election, saying that “We stand with the Thai people in calling for the expeditious announcement of voting results and a fair and transparent investigation of any reported irregularities.” And yesterday (27 March), the French Embassy in Bangkok also released a statement calling for “a transparent process for publishing the results as swiftly as possible and for handling potential disputes in the event of irregularities.”