Advanced Voting Observation in Thailand
With the organization of the advanced vote on Sunday 26th June, the ongoing electoral process in Thailand has entered a new phase: nearly 3 million voters, both residents and non-resident voters registered to cast their vote one week prior to the General Elections on 3rd July 2011. Voters across the country were able to cast their ballots in a largely quiet and well managed election environment.
ANFREL complements the Election Commission of Thailand and all supporting organizations for their efforts to organize this advanced vote. At the same time, and based on the observations of 60 international observers across the country, ANFREL would like to comment on the conduct of this vote in light of the upcoming Election Day.
About 3.3 million voters who registered to vote in advance in 2007, some as non-residents, were not aware that their names remained on the advance voting list in their former areas. This fact left them unable to vote this year in their actual constituencies unless they had previously notified the ECT of their return home. As an alternative to the current system, advance voting registration should automatically expire at the end of each election season. In addition, voter lists were either not provided in sufficient numbers, or the access to the voter lists was managed in an haphazard manner at some polling locations, a shortcoming that should be addressed by the end of this week.
Polling Station management has seen small but significant inconsistencies both in the number of polling personnel on duty as well as what concerns the correct conduct of procedures, even in cases where polling stations were next to each other in the same polling centres. These managerial inconsistencies should be swiftly addressed by the ECT leadership during the yet to be held trainings for polling officials.
Polling Centers in Bangkok and other urban centres were planned for up to 100.000 voters. Whereas the logistics of this operation went remarkably well in most cases, it became evident that halving the advanced voting period from two days to one day caused traffic jams and led to overcrowded polling stations, resulting in some voters turning away without having cast their votes, especially in Bang Kapi (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Samut Prakarn, etc. In cases such as these, ECT commissioners should use their authority to order some polling station officials to extend their voting time when necessary.
Advanced voting day falls during the campaign period and, while campaigning was forbidden around polling locations, ANFREL advocates for the advanced voting date to be treated as an Election Day where campaign activities such as rallies, campaign vehicle circuits, and house-to-house visits should not be allowed at all.
The presence of party agents inside the polling stations was scarcer than one might have expected. ANFREL calls upon all political parties and their candidates to train and send more agents to witness the polls inside the polling station. ANFREL also reminds all political actors to conduct a fair campaign finish according to the Code of Conduct for Electoral Campaign.
Security was adequately provided for the advanced polls, but the voting of soldiers has raised significant concerns in some parts of the country: In Narathiwat, Pattani, and Songkhla, military personnel cast their ballots while carrying arms to polling stations. Additionally, over one thousand soldiers at a polling center in Kanchanaburi were given priority at the ballot box, causing regular voters to return to their homes disappointedly.
ANFREL calls upon the ECT and the supporting organizations, in particular the Royal Thai Police and the Thai Post, to maintain the transparency and accuracy that was observed during the close of the advanced vote and the handover/ takeover of ballot papers. The ballots must be stored securely during the entire week. The transmission of non-residential ballot papers must not invoke any doubt about the integrity of the transport chains and the accuracy of them being counted after the close of polls next Sunday.
ANFREL further calls upon the media to constructively support the electoral process without overemphasizing singular violent incidents; upon civil society organizations to continue the recruitment and training of national election observers; and upon the voters to make their decisions independently and to vote freely on Sunday 3rd July.