Thai expats in New Zealand protest against ECT

On Monday (1 April), members of the Thai community in New Zealand laid wreaths at the gates of the Thai Embassy in Wellington in protest at the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT)’s treatment of the 1542 overseas ballots from New Zealand.

After the ECT ruled that the overseas ballots from New Zealand would not be counted because they were not delivered to their respective constituencies within the specified timeframe, the Thai community in New Zealand expressed their frustration and disappointment at being unable to participate in the election due to the ECT’s mismanagement.

On Monday, members of the Thai community in Wellington travelled to the Thai Embassy to place black funeral wreaths and banners at the Embassy’s gates. The wreaths say “RIP 1542 votes” and “Democracy?”. The group also placed placards edged in black saying “RIP 1542 votes” in Thai and English, and a bouquet with a sign saying “unprofessional”.

Thanabadi Yatsangkat, a Thai chef who was at the demonstration at the Embassy, said that many people expressed interest, but because of heavy rain that morning, only about 10 people went to the Embassy. Thanabadi said that the Embassy did not bar them from going through with their activity, but asked them not to take pictures of the King’s portrait.

The Thai community in Auckland also made a video clip calling for justice. The group said that they would like to know why the ballots did not arrive in Bangkok on time, since they voted on 10 March – two weeks before the election day on 24 March.  

“We would like to know who is responsible for the delayed delivery. Where is justice?” A representative of the group said in the video clip. “We have to take time off work and close our businesses. Some of us had to travel 50 – 60 kilometres to vote, but in the end it’s all for nothing. Isn’t this a loss? Is this transparency? Is this justice?”

“Someone has to be held responsible. This is our plea. We would like Thailand and the world to hear us.”

“The relevant embassy personnel and ECT officials have to take responsibility. If no one owns up, then the head of the NCPO and the Prime Minister, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, has to be held responsible. Gen Prayut, if you are a man and a soldier, you have to take responsibility and show your spirit by resigning from your position as head of the NCPO and Prime Minister instantly.”

Thanawi Tungthong, a Thai student in New Zealand, also recorded a video clip saying that this is the first time that she voted in an election. She said that she thinks that the ECT made an easy decision and an unfair one which does not benefit the country in any way.

“Is this right? Is it fair that Thai citizens, especially these 1542 voters, have to live with the consequences, have to face trouble, have to lose our rights as people and as Thai citizens because of a mistake that is not our fault but from a mistake in the authorities’ procedures?” Thanawi asked in her video clip.

“I would like the ECT and the government to think about their decision, whether it is fair or right to invalidate these 1542 votes. I would like you to consider whether this election is transparent, whether it is right, whether it is democratic.”

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Charn Tiebtienrat, who lives in Whangarei, said that he helped the town’s Thai community register to vote, and he felt that it was irresponsible for the Thai authorities not to pick up the ballots in time, rendering them invalid.

“We live in Whangarei, in the northernmost part of North Island. It is not possible for us to go to vote in the capital, which is at the southernmost point of North Island, because we would have to drive more than ten hours to get there,” Charn told Prachatai. “We have to register to vote via post. The process was difficult and the website crashed often. While I was helping one person register, the site crashed eight times. It only worked on the ninth time. If I wasn’t patient, I would have given up.”

“The Embassy sent us the ballots on 6 March, and we had to send them back to Wellington by 13 March. I sent everyone’s ballot back on 11 March. We followed all the steps.”

“In New Zealand, when there’s an election, the authorities will count the votes from New Zealanders who live overseas after the election day and combine them with the vote count, and then the results will change slightly. Last time, one party won one more seat after they included the overseas votes. It is not strange to count overseas vote later and then combine them with the vote count.”

“This time it’s clear that they wanted a certain party to win and are doing everything to make sure that party wins. Everyone can tell.”  

The ECT still has not offered a proper explanation regarding the New Zealand ballots, but election commissioner Pakorn Mahannop said on Tuesday (2 April) that the ECT is currently investigating the issue. He claimed that vote counting concluded within 2 or 3 hours after the poll closed, and the ballots from New Zealand did not arrive in time. However, the Embassy issued a press release on 25 March saying that the ballots left Wellington by air cargo on 18 March and should have arrived in Thailand on 19 March.

Sumet Damrongchaitham, President of Thai Airways International, also said that the ballots were shipped from Wellington to Auckland by Air New Zealand flight NZ448 on 18 March, and that they were kept in Air New Zealand storage from 18 – 22 March. The ballots were then shipped from Auckland to Bangkok and arrived at 20.50 on 23 March.

Sumet said that Thai Airways warehouse staff contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 17.00 on 23 March that the ballots from New Zealand would arrive that night, but they were not picked up until 19.30 on 24 March.

Thanabadi said that he spoke to the Embassy on Monday, and was told that embassy staff already separated the ballots into constituencies. For him, it should not be too difficult for the ECT to deliver the ballots to their constituencies on time, and there should be no reason for the MFA or the ECT to not pick up the ballots on 23 March.