ANFREL Expresses Grave Concern About Violence & the Blocking of Polling Centers in Thailand
BANGKOK, 27 January 2014 – The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) views with grave concern all acts of violence and violations of human, civil, and political rights that took place on January 26th, Advanced Voting Day in Thailand. Regarding the shooting of protest leader Suthin Tharatin and the injuries that took place at several sites across Bangkok, ANFREL deplores violence in all its forms and urges that an impartial investigation be carried out right away into Mr. Tharatin’s death. Perpetrators should be brought to justice and all sides should recommit to non-violent means of protest and conflict resolution.
Regarding the voting itself, ANFREL witnessed, and is deeply troubled by, the determined blocking and obstruction of advanced voting centers in Bangkok and the South, even while advanced voting in the North, Northeast, and most of the central regions of Thailand went smoothly. Such aggressive poll blocking behaviour is unacceptable and gravely violates voters’ civil and political rights. ANFREL was already troubled by reports prior to the voting day that protesters planned to “persuade” their fellow citizens not to vote at the Polling Station. The reality of what ANFREL observed on the 26th however was much more serious than simple persuasion. Protesters were well organized and coordinated, moving to block or shutdown one Polling Center after another and reinforcing one another, when necessary, until virtually all Polling Centers in Bangkok were shut down.
ANFREL understands the desire to avoid clashes at polling stations, which would have created an environment unsuitable for voting to take place. That said, ANFREL also regrets the authorities’, primarily the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) and the Police, inability to protect peoples’ right to vote and hopes that better planning and security measures can be carried out in the future. To remedy the situation as best as possible, the ECT needs to quickly take up the multitude of cases of voters that were disenfranchised today. To assist this process, all persons unable to vote today should move to file a complaint in order to ensure their rights are properly restored. In the course of the day, ANFREL spoke with several voters that expressed a range of disappointment, anger, and sadness that they were being disenfranchised. By acting quickly, the Election Commission can provide a solution that would enable voters normally voting in advance an alternative means of doing so. Quick, efficient action by the ECT to restore these voters’ rights to have their voice heard could go a long way to rebuild recently lost confidence.
Given the tragic events of the day, including both the violence and the disenfranchisement of so many people, ANFREL calls on all stakeholders to come together and agree that the way forward should include respect for the rule of law and acceptance of international norms surrounding non-violence and elections. “It’s vitally important that the process moving forward, whatever its specifics and timeline, is inclusive and representative of the country as a whole. Elections and referendums remain the gold standard to create nationwide ownership in a process and ensure that everyone’s voices are included. We call on all stakeholders to re-engage with the electoral process in order to create a framework to move forward for reform,” said ANFREL’s Executive Director Mr. Ichal Supriadi.