ANFREL Calls for Opening Polling Stations: Thailand Needs a Free and Peaceful Advanced Voting Day
BANGKOK, 26 January 2014, 10:00am – With over two million Thais eligible to vote on Sunday the 26th of January’s advanced voting day, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) calls on all groups to respect the sanctity of the vote and not take provocative actions at polling centers which disrupt and interrupt important voting processes.
Early reports from the morning of advanced voting day indicate that protesters are blocking many polling centers in Bangkok and in the South of Thailand. ANFREL calls on those persons blocking polling stations to allow polling centers to open and leave polling centers in order to avoid a possibly volatile situation where voters attempting to vote are turned away and become angry. In any election that ANFREL observes, we are concerned if and when there are individuals or groups of people loitering at or near polling stations that intend to influence the voting taking place. In Thailand, these groups are not only gathering to ‘persuade’ as promised, they are also outright blocking polling centers and keeping polling centers from even opening. Such blocking is a clear violation of Thai voters’ civil and political rights. ANFREL hopes that groups blocking polling stations rethink their strategies and let those persons choosing to vote do so freely. ANFREL appreciated the group leader’s earlier promise not to block polling centers and wishes that the protesters would honor his previous commitment.
The principle of respecting voting by not blocking or even gathering at polling stations applies to any and all groups, whether pro or anti government, that wish to rally at voting centers. ANFREL respects the right to non-violent protest and recognizes Thai citizens’ right to not participate in the electoral process or to ‘vote no’ on the ballot, an option not available in many countries but possible in Thailand. ANFREL commends the generally non-violent nature of the protests so far and hopes that recent episodes of violence remain isolated incidents. Authorities should investigate and prosecute all such incidents to the full extent of the law in a timely and impartial manner. ANFREL also encourages authorities to exercise restraint and follow internationally accepted crowd control techniques in dealing with protest or counter-protest crowds. For a more long-term and sustainable peace, ANFREL believes that the caretaker government and anti-government leaders should come together for a sincere and inclusive reform process that serves the interests of the entire country.
But in the meantime, and in order to preserve and even improve the largely non-violent environment, it’s important that all sides refrain from undemocratic blocking of polling stations and other intentionally confrontational maneuvering that violates others’ civil and political rights and could lead to violence. “Blocking polling centers, regardless of the group doing it, is an unacceptable and provocative act that violates others’ right to freely vote their own conscience. Political expression at Polling Stations should be made in the voting booth, not by blocking it” said ANFREL’s Executive Director Ichal Supriadi, “the polling station and others’ rights must be respected.”