ANFREL IEOM to the 2023 Thai General Election: Interim Report
On May 14, 2023, over 39 million Thai people headed to the polls in the country’s largest democratic exercise ever. We salute the strong turnout of around 75% in spite of extreme heat and sometimes heavy rain, and congratulate the Election Commission of Thailand for a peaceful and orderly Election Day that followed a vibrant and competitive campaign period.
While ANFREL commends the Election Commission for its much improved delivery of results, we believe that access of political parties, media and election observers to tabulation centers could have further strengthened the transparency of the result management process and election outcome. We invite Thailand’s new parliament to introduce legal guarantees for all stakeholders to witness every step of the electoral process.
Electoral System and Legal Framework
Thailand uses a mixed-member apportionment system (MMA), utilizing both first-past-the-post and proportional representation. The National Assembly is composed of the two following chambers:
1. The House of Representatives (500 elected members)
2. The Senate (250 appointed members)
In this 2023 Thai General Election, 400 representatives were elected on a constituency basis, while the remaining 100 were elected through proportional seat allocation on a nationwide party-list basis. In addition to Representatives, the 250 appointed members of the Senate also participate in the selection of prime ministers for a period of five years.
The main changes between the 2019 and 2023 election system are as follows:
- Parties can win proportional representation seats regardless of how many constituencies they secure, as PR seats are calculated separately;
- Voters were issued two ballot papers as in Thai elections prior to 2019, one for first-past-the-post and the second for proportional representation.
Parties winning more than 25 House seats can submit their prime ministerial candidates for the consideration of the National Assembly. To become prime minister, the winning candidate must receive the votes of more than half of the combined houses, i.e. at least 376 members. Keeping in view the legal framework, ANFREL hopes that this general election may result in a government that reflects the will of the people.
Thailand’s legal framework must also be improved to uphold fully the principle of universal suffrage. According to the 2017 Constitution, Thai nationals who are 18 years old or above have the right to exercise their right to vote. However, the law denies the right to vote to Buddhist clergy, and detainees regardless of their conviction status. Whil ANFREL respects the cultural and religious traditions of Thailand, we hope that Thailand will do more to protect and defend the electoral and political rights of all segments of its population.
The 2023 general election was more transparent than that of 2019, thanks to a credible announcement of results and increased participation of civil society and media. The new reporting system called ECT Report provided results that were timely, accurate, and easily accessible, although some glitches have been reported. This is now followed by a consolidated tabulation process which will deliver complete results no later than on May 19.
Throughout the deployment period, ANFREL deployed its 41 international observers in 51 provinces of Thailand. In addition to observing critical pre-election electoral processes and the campaign, these observers covered 460 polling stations on Election Day and reported their observations on voting and counting processes in line with the laws relating to the election of members of the House of Representatives.
It was noted that the polls opened on time and all required materials were placed in their respective places. Polling stations had candidate and party list information posted on bulletin boards to provide guidance to the voters.
At the observed polling stations, the polling officials checked the voters' ID and issued two ballots upon having a counter signature of the voter. It was also noted that polling stations were orderly and well managed, with proper queue management in most of the visited stations. There was no incident of violence reported by any of the ANFREL obserers, nor undue influence by unauthorized persons.
The ECT has also implemented its committed timeline to publish preliminary election results on Election Day itself. It is positive achievement for the entire electoral system of Thailand that near complete results were published by midnight on Election Day.
According to ANFREL’s observation, all polling stations had an open vote counting process that everyone was allowed to witness.
A balance between accessibility and cost-effectiveness are guiding principles which enables an effective mechanism for advance voting. Thailand’s electoral system provides an advanced voting mechanism to accommodate voters who are unable to vote on Election Day. Advance voting mechanisms, under international standards for election observation, provide voters, media, and observers with a clear picture of the level of preparedness of the Election Commission and a mechanism for election observers to monitor and safeguard the election process.
A total of 2,350,969 voters registered for advance voting on May 7, or earlier if abroad. It was observed that there was a 10% drop in registration from 2019, which may be explained by the shorter registration period given for the advance voting. Turnout among advance voters was massive at almost 92%. The conduct of advance voting was a clear expression of commitment to improve the level of electoral participation and level of trust in Thailand's democratic system. Accordingly, our general take on the voting process is positive. The voting centers were largely managed by the constituency election commission offices, which were coordinated by relevant departments. However, there are few areas of concern mentioned by the observation teams:
a. Specific Elements Observed:
• Arrangement for Persons with Disabilities and Elderly People: Majority of the polling centers observed had staff with ready wheelchairs at the entrance of the voting centers. A majority of polling locations were found to be accessible, however there were some locations where mobility impaired voters needed to be assisted in order to reach the polling stations. It is worthy to note that once they arrived at the polling station, the polling officials assisted them, and that they were able to be assisted by a person of their choice.
• Emergency Support: A station for emergency support was seen in each voting center. There were nurses, paramedic, ambulance, and emergency equipment at that station. The ANFREL observers have informed that the emergency team was responding during the polling time.
• Thai Postal Service: The Thai postal service staff were present during the closing time and were seen assisting for the transportation of the ballots after the election
• Providing Water: It was an exceptionally hot day. The heat was felt in many parts of the country during the polling day. It was worthy to note that the election officials provided water stations in every advance voting center. Spreading water from trucks was seen in polling centers in Bangkok.
• Huge Media Presence: In the two advance voting centers with a huge number of voters (40,000 and up), the media presence was notable. It is not just the mainstream media, social media coverage was also observed.
• QR Code and Information Center: At the polling center QR codes were provided to help the voters find and identify their polling station. Besides, the information center or reception center sometimes had staff using computers to find the voters at the voter list. In a few cases the QR code did not work but the information center was helpful.
b. Issues of Concern:
• Voter Awareness: It was observed that in many cases voters were not aware of the information about the candidates posted in the bulletin boards. The main concern about the availability of the information is on how the voters are able to utilize such information.
• Ballot Traceability: The constituency ballots were the same without mentioning the name of the constituency on it. Thus, it is challenging to ascertain the constituency of the ballot from the ballot face template itself. At some polling stations, the postal details on the sealed envelopes were not correctly written, which could have led to misplacement of the advance voting ballots.
• Presence of Party Agents and Observers: There was a presence of party agents and election observers in only some of the voting centers observed. Though there was an allocated seat for them, agents were often not there.
• Training of Polling Officials and Lack of Uniformity: In several cases the number of the used and unused ballots were written and corrected on the final reconciliation paper and some of the inconsistencies observed can be attributed to the quality and duration of training given to the polling officials.
The campaign environment in the provinces observed by ANFREL’s international observers was peaceful and the culture of inter-party respect was distinctly observed as there was hardly any negative campaigning. The political parties elevated the political and election discourse through their efforts on providing the electorate policies, plans and programs. In their manifestos and election campaigns, the parties had clearly projected their policies and programs. Almost all of the political parties emphasized on delivering social welfare to the voters along with some party specific plans as per their party ideologies. Parties conveyed to upgrade the infrastructure in Thailand's economic corridors in order to meet international standards to boost the country’s economic potential; to raise the minimum daily wage; to combat social inequality; to create more jobs; generate revenue and develop the country; to provide free solar panels to every households, economic promises of the party include a price guarantee for crops; funding for small businesses and setting up community banks to offer low-interest loans to local entrepreneurs and among others.
The campaign environment also made opportunities for good public discussions among political parties, candidates and other electoral stakeholders. What is unique in this election, election observations conveyed the increase of electoral participation among the women, professionals and the youth. Women voters interviewed by our observers reportedly have not experienced any form of discrimination. Preliminary interviews among political party leaders indicate that most parties have taken a conscious decision to field more women candidates. The youth of Thailand have demonstrated commitment and platform for civic engagement. ANFREL hopes that their momentum and engagement with the process continues after the election.
Campaigning strategies adopted by political parties and candidates predominantly used traditional methods such as house-to-house visits, posters, motorcades with loudspeakers, and public rallies. Special campaign songs were composed to attract voters towards the party’s future promises. Despite the rise of social media, campaign posters still seem to be the main channel of communication for political parties and candidates. In rural areas, exposure to the electoral campaign was often limited to television, community radio stations, and informal community discussions.
However, ANFREL reiterates its call to strengthen the enforcement of Code of Conduct in campaigning. ANFREL hopes that the Election Commission should take a strong commitment in future electoral exercises by endorsing its creation and implementation to encourage a principled campaign environment.
Media and Civil Society Organizations Engagement
The online media industry or the digital media industry has continued to flourish and expand. Every election, social media is at the front of digital innovation in a challenging political environment. Political trolling, the continued increase of disinformation and misinformation, lack of legal framework in regulating the online media, the image-based politics and effects on election integrity have been on the surface since the last elections.
The disinformation landscape right now is that elections are being enabled by more sophisticated strategies that went beyond anonymous trolls and bots. Digital operations are fully integrated in the overall campaign strategy and disinformation innovations in the form of micro/nano influencers, alternatives news, and closed groups have emerged to carry out discrete micro-media manipulation of unsuspecting voters and thus, through all of these, social media plays an influential role in the nature of political conversations that may have implications for electoral outcomes.
However, the cost-effectiveness of using social media paved the way to the extensive social media campaigns and innovations to reach out to more stakeholders. The problem lies now not only in regulating social media (but not geared towards content regulation), but also on how to properly and accurately capture the expenses of candidates in online campaigning. ANFREL hopes that the upcoming leaders and the ECT can provide more mechanisms to enhance the value of political party finance and election campaign finance regulation by including a provision that would monitor social media associates or contractors whose primary duty is to promote the election of any candidate through social media interactions and engagement, and an effective reporting process on which the political parties and candidates will report out their donors, contributors and expenditures accurately and truthfully.
ANFREL also appreciates the ECT’s effort to address misinformation and disinformation in this election by creating an Anti-Fake News committee. ANFREL hopes that more mechanisms of transparency initiatives such as media literacy workshops for voters and civil society to capacitate them on how to easily understand what misinformation and disinformation mean, and to provide knowledge on how to distinguish factual versus fake election information. We also hope that effective fact-checking measures shall be formed in partnership with the different social media platforms and civil society organizations to enhance the accuracy of the information as well as election integrity.
The domestic observer groups also are tirelessly engaged in strengthening democracy by monitoring the election process and at the same time engaging people in this process. Two domestic observers’ groups, WeWatch and Vote62, need special reference here as both these organizations deployed their observers nationwide to track the election violations and announcement of results, and engaged with citizens to motivate them to participate in democracy.
Election Management and Transparency Measures
The right to gain knowledge on the electoral process ensures that both voters and electoral contestants are informed of how exactly they can exercise their right to vote or file for candidacy. In the conduct of this election, ANFREL saw the concerns of the public on how they can easily digest and understand election information. ANFREL hopes that ECT will continue to provide more simplified election information and regulations to give more guidance to the general electorate. This can also be done in partnership with other non-partisan election stakeholders to improve the reach and provide more accessible innovations.
Training of Polling Staff
Election operations in terms of how the elections should run in each polling station are vital. ANFREL observed some concerns at the advance voting day on how the number of the used and unused ballots were written and corrected on the final reconciliation paper; lack of uniformity in the implementation of the step-by-step process in election day such as maintaining a distance from the voters whenever they cast their vote (ballot secrecy principle); asking the voters to remove their face mask for identity validation; filling out of the sor sor 5/5 and sor sor 5/18 forms; and a seeming contingency procedures in cases of counting reconciliation. ANFREL believes that these concerns can be attributed to the quality and duration of training given to the polling staff and election officials. Aside from quality and longer hours of training, ANFREL hopes that future training shall improve the simulation of the conduct of elections to further strengthen the implementation of the actual process.
Ballot Paper Design
Ballot Paper Design The ECT uses identical ballots across the 400 first-past-the-post constituencies, citing cost-saving reasons. These ballots lack candidate information and safeguards to ensure integrity during their distribution to the respective constituencies. We hope that in the future the Election Commission assesses the ballot layout primarily considering the accessibility to all voters. ANFREL, however, appreciates the ECT’s initiative of implementing and returning to the two ballot system this 2023 General Elections.
Voting of Elderly People and Persons with Disabilities
The standard of inclusiveness applies to twin rights -the right and opportunity to be elected, and the right and opportunity to vote. Inclusiveness requires that there is no discrimination as to who is able to exercise both rights. ANFREL commends the efforts of the ECT by promoting inclusion and accessibility among voters by producing sign language videos for hearing impaired persons, braille election handouts and braille ballot guide for visually impaired persons. However, ANFREL has observed that during the advance voting, reasonable accommodation and assistance to vulnerable sector voters were properly and extensively provided. However, on election day, some of the observers conveyed that the same implementation was not seen. One in four observed polling stations did not have accessible ramps and had hazards and obstacles which affect the mobility of the elderly voters and persons with disability voters. ANFREL hopes that in future electoral exercises, a more uniform procedure will be implemented. We also hope that the ECT can consider providing a separate express lane to elderly and persons with disability, in such a way, our vulnerable sectors will not endure long lines for them to vote.
Accordingly, It is also worth noting that based on interviews before the elections, stakeholders conveyed the challenges faced by the vulnerable sector groups when it comes to exercising their electoral rights. The ECT and other election observation groups shall include this matter in a voter education manual to increase the knowledge of the general public as to the situation of the vulnerable sector in elections.
Lastly, the political parties and media shall also put efforts on making their campaign activities and events more accessible by requiring sign language interpreters inserts in social media and television events, campaigns and coverage.
The right to gain and share knowledge ensures that voters are able to effectively vote in accordance to their political will and that their vote is based on accurate and truthful information about the electoral candidates. ANFREL appreciates the effort of the ECT to enhance the mechanisms on providing electoral information such as civic education programs and the creation of the Smart Vote App which allow the users to access the information of candidates, political parties and election news publication. This effort also was seen at the polling centers, where candidates’ information was posted in the bulletin boards. ANFREL hopes that this kind of information will be part of the sustainability efforts of the ECT through partnerships and close and regular communication with the media and other civil society organizations to reach out to more stakeholders, and to improve voter awareness.
Vote Buying Reports
The ECT already devised a preventive mechanism for controlling and monitoring election fraud relating to financial matters. There is a provision for a monetary reward for the informers and measures to protect their identity and the launch of an application called Ta Sapporot (Pineapple Eyes) for the public to report any form of electoral fraud to ECT by sending pieces of evidence such as texts, pictures, and videos. However, despite the structural mechanism of vote buying, it was the most reported concern by the stakeholders interviewed in the field. In their communication with the voters and other stakeholders, it was found that on the one hand, the lack of evidence prevented people from reporting such election fraud; on the other hand, the skepticism about the individual safety and privacy barred them from reporting such issues. ANFREL hopes that the ECT can fully implement the existing witness protection measures such as receiving anonymous complaints, and inform the public on this mechanism to build the trust of voters, create an environment for fearless reporting of such cases and a more speedy, responsive and engaged process.
Overall, ANFREL hopes for a more vibrant democracy and a system and legal framework that will allow citizens to aggregate their interests to demand from the elected leaders the issues with regard to economic, social and cultural well being, as well as peace and security. Genuine elections therefore are not only a condition to establishing democratic governance; they are inseparable from broader democratic development.
 The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2560 (2017) and its Amendment, Organic Act on the Election Commission B.E. 2560 (2017) and Organic Act on the Election of Members of the House of Representatives B.E. 2561 (2018) and its Amendment
ANFREL’s international election observation effort consists of a total of 41 observers deployed in 51 of Thailand’s 77 provinces during the campaign period, advance voting, and Election Day.
Its objectives are to a) observe and report on the election environment and process including advance voting, Election Day and the post-election; b) gather relevant data which will strengthen the accuracy and integrity of public reports and election information and be relayed to the public through statements and press conferences; c) strengthen institutional ties among other civil society organizations; and d) present recommendations to the Election Commission and other stakeholders to improve the quality of electoral processes and advance democracy in Thailand.
The assessment of the overall conduct of the elections is in light of international norms and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and regional instruments like the Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections and the Dili Indicators of Democratic Elections.
ANFREL will issue a comprehensive Mission Report after the publication of the final election results, which will expand on the information included in this Interim Report and include an assessment of the post-election period as well as a list of recommendations for electoral stakeholders to consider.
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