2023 Thai General Election: Democracy at a Crossroads

Download the full report here: “2023 Thai General Election: Democracy at a Crossroads | Thai version

The 2023 Thai General Election showed accountability, transparency and inclusiveness, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said in their final election observation report released Tuesday, 15 August 2023.

The election, held 14 May 2023, saw over 39 million voters (75.22% voter turnout) participate with the results generally accepted by the electorate. ANFREL said, however, that there were still concerns over the quality of the many aspects of the electoral process.

The electoral campaign environment was vibrant. The situation in the provinces was described to be calm and devoid of any significant violence or election law violations. Incidents of vote buying, however, remained a major concern.

ANFREL commended the commitment of poll workers who were committed to run a smooth Election Day as they navigate the complex voting process. While vote counting at the polling station level is open to the public, ANFREL noted that transparency could be improved by allowing political parties, the media and election observers to the tabulation centers.

The ANFREL International Election Observation Mission to the 2023 Thai General Election followed previous engagements in the country and guided by international norms and principles enshrined in international instruments and best practices on free and fair elections. 

ANFREL deployed three electoral analysts for 45 days, 10 long-term observers for 20 days and 16 short-term observers for 10 days in 51 of 77 provinces across the country. Throughout the mission, they observed 227 polling stations during the advance voting day (7 May) and 460 polling stations on Election Day (14 May). Over 800 electoral stakeholders were interviewed during the observation period.

ANFREL offers a set of recommendations based on the collective observation of the mission which ANFREL hopes would serve as a guide to improve and further consolidate the electoral democracy in Thailand.

Read the Executive Summary of the final report below:

Executive Summary

The 2023 Thai general election showed improved accountability, transparency and inclusivity as evidenced by the general public’s acceptance and confidence in the final official election results, compared to the 2019 Thai general election. However, there were still concerns respecting the quality of many aspects of the electoral processes. Moreover, while the election took place in a more open environment, the country found itself as polarized as ever and under threat of military intervention. Stakeholders across the board were apprehensive that the election might not take place in a free and fair environment. They thought that the outcome of the election would be an indicator of whether or not Thailand would become more democratic in the near future.

During May 2023, over 39 million Thai people voted in the country’s largest democratic exercise ever. This amounted to a turnout of around 75.22%, which was remarkable, especially in light of extreme heat and sometimes heavy rainfall. The Election Commission of Thailand ensured that Advance Voting Day and Election Day were peaceful and orderly.

Efforts to strengthen Thailand’s democracy now become the job of the newly elected members of Parliament, many of whom have advocated reforms such as revising or replacing the 2017 Constitution and, more controversially, amending Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code.  ANFREL urges the parliamentarians to adopt reforms that will better ensure that the outcomes of future elections reflect the will of the Thai people.

In general, all aspects of the 2023 general election leading up to, and including, Election Day, were more transparent than were those in 2019. The new reporting system called ECT Report provided results that were timely, accurate, and easily accessible, although some glitches were reported. While ANFREL commends the Election Commission for a much-improved delivery of results, we believe that access by political parties, the media and election observers to tabulation centers could have further strengthened the transparency of the tabulation and announcement of results.

The advance voting was a clear expression of commitment to improve the level of electoral participation and level of trust in Thailand’s democratic system, turnout among advance voters was 91.83%.

Electoral campaigns were more vibrant, with more than sixty (60) political parties competing for seats, conducting political rallies and mobilizing social media and other innovations to reach out to more voters. The campaign atmosphere in the provinces where ANFREL observers visited appeared calm and devoid of any significant violence or election law violations. Unlike 2019, when there was intimidation of candidates, unequal security provided to campaign events, and harassment of civil society and the media, 2023 was free of reports of serious incidents. The most aggressive actions this year seemed to be limited to damaging or destroying the campaign materials and posters of opposing parties.

However, like the 2019 Thai general election, the issue of vote buying remained a major concern in 2023. Throughout the election observation mission, ANFREL observers noted this issue repeatedly as they collected reports of vote-buying across the country.  However, in retrospect, it is difficult to gauge whether voters were actually influenced by such activity or whether they merely collected money and then voted as they pleased.

The election observation team ascertained that most voters relied on media and social media to learn about the electoral processes, as they had in the 2019 election.  Indeed, in 2019, ECT’s regulations for the general election were not made readily accessible on its website, or disseminated widely to the media and the public. Political parties, analysts, and observers were reduced to depending on information released by the ECT during press briefings in 2019.  Despite some improvements, ANFREL witnessed voters this year still struggling to find, digest and understand election information for the 2023 election. ANFREL urges the ECT to provide more simplified election information and regulations to the general electorate well ahead of future election.

Civil society and the media helped fill the information gap by providing the public with guidance and information on how to meaningfully participate in the electoral process, despite limits, official and unofficial, on dissent and free speech.

Poll workers braved the challenges of a complex voting process. Observers noted and appreciated their commitment to run a smooth Election Day through their efforts to ensure that all materials were prepared, voters were well-assisted, and vote counting in the polling locations was open to the public, despite concerns on the contingency measures in preparing the reconciliation sheet. While ANFREL noted a few mistakes in the implementation of polling and closing procedures, these were minor and could easily be addressed in the future by providing polling staff with more thorough training.

Notwithstanding some weaknesses, the 2023 Thai election were much better run than the 2019 Thai election, which ANFREL described as a missed opportunity because they failed to deliver on the people’s expectations. This year, election results appear to reflect a rapidly evolving country whose people want to see reform, and who desire to mend and sustain their democracy. The results were seemingly a blow to the ruling elites, militarists, and conservative society.

The path of the winning reformers is still unclear, however, and the next government may yet prove to be one closer to the conservative forces who have usually run the country than to those with a vision of sweeping reform.  It also remains to be seen whether the pendulum between episodes of democratic governance and military rule will continue to swing back and forth, as it has done since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. The question still remains whether democratic processes will lie at the heart of democracy where genuine election give effect to the free expression of the will of the people?

Download the full report here:2023 Thai General Election: Democracy at a Crossroads” | Thai version

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