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Asian Observer Group Commends Thai Election, Cites Minor Flaws

  • Daniel Schearf

Voters wait in line to cast their votes, next to a board showing information on candidates, at a polling station in Bangkok July 3, 2011.

Voters wait in line to cast their votes, next to a board showing information on candidates, at a polling station in Bangkok July 3, 2011.

An Asian election monitoring group has hailed Thailand's nationwide election as final results were tallied for being generally peaceful, orderly and allowing the public to express their voice. But, the Asian Network for Free Elections also cited some flaws in the polls and warned the Thai military not to intervene in politics.

ANFREL congratulated Thailand for holding a peaceful and orderly vote with a large voter turnout. Thailand’s Election Commission estimates more than 70 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in Sunday’s election.

The commission’s official results released Tuesday gave the opposition Pheu Thai party a comfortable majority of 265 seats out of 500 in parliament. The ruling Democrat Party won 159 seats.

ANFREL issued a statement Tuesday noting there were some flaws in the election, including cases of violence, intimidation and vote-buying that it urged authorities to handle appropriately. But it said there were no major incidents that would call into question the results.

Uninformed

The monitoring group says the most substantial problem was the election commission failing to sufficiently inform some voters of the need to re-register for the election. According to ANFREL, that prevented up to one million Thais, about three percent of voters, from participating.

ANFREL chairman Damaso Magbual told journalists Tuesday that given the tense situation in the country, Thailand’s Election Commission in general, managed the process well and the result was a vote that reflects the will of the people.

“After years of political turmoil and violence that divided the country, Thailand citizens have voted; and, no matter the political views, were able to express their political opinion in a peaceful manner based on the rule of law,” Magbual said.

Showdown

The vote was seen as a showdown between the Thai elite and military-backed Democrats and the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, led Pheu Thai to victory.

In 2006, the military overthrew Thaksin. Many political analysts say the action was taken out of fear the twice-elected populist was becoming too powerful.

Thailand has since been locked in a power struggle between forces for and against Thaksin that has seen two governments aligned with him removed by court orders as well as street protests and violence. In 2008, he fled into exile to avoid a jail term for corruption.

Red shirts

Last year, armed elements among Thaksin’s red-shirt supporters clashed with soldiers sent to end their two-month protest demanding a new election and fair treatment for their leaders.

More than 90 people were killed and 2,000 others injured - most of them civilians.

Many observers had feared a Pheu Thai victory would lead the military to intervene, once again, despite repeated promises of no more coups.

Magbual noted that, unlike the last election in 2007, this time there was a large majority for the Thaksin-aligned party. He said the military should be given the benefit of the doubt, but also gave it a warning.

“One party was able to achieve a majority. I think the military should think twice before they do any mischief, considering what is happening in the Middle East, for instance, or elsewhere in the world," Magbual said. "They should think twice before they do anything wrong.”

Past turmoil

Thailand has had 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932.

The election commission is investigating allegations of election irregularities and, if serious violations are uncovered, could still disqualify elected officials.

ANFREL is recommending Thailand suspend politicians suspected of fraud and other election crimes before voting, rather than after, to prevent tensions from overturned results.

Magbual says they should also eliminate rules that allow entire political parties to be dissolved when individual members break the law.

He says individuals should be held responsible for their own actions and that punishing the party allows for political abuse.

ANFREL will continue to monitor the election process as complaints are handled before issuing a final report.

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