ANFREL Preliminary Report July 5th – Thailand
Constitutional Amendments & Electoral System
The constitutional amendments and subsequent changes to the Electoral Law of early 2011 made significant changes to the electoral system. The number of elected members of parliament was increased from 480 to 500, divided between 375 elected from single member constituencies (first-past-the-post) and 125 elected from a proportional party list. To implement the new electoral system, the earlier constituency boundaries had to be withdrawn. To which extent this provides an equality of the vote nation-wide and how its results affect the political landscape still has to be further assessed. The political impact of the shift towards a larger proportional representation block of MPs will also be explored in ANFREL’s final report.
The Political Campaign
The campaign atmosphere was rather quiet due to the fact that most campaign activities consisted of small meetings or rallies, door-to-door visits, the use of campaign vehicles etc. with the exception of the leading political candidates on tour. Village headmen often organized campaign events on community grounds in behalf of the canvassers or candidates. In-kind payments to attend campaign events occurred regularly.
Allegations concerning vote buying were widespread during the campaign period and increased before Election Day. ANFREL observers have collected direct reports of this type of malpractice in, among others, Narathiwat, Phuket, Ayuthaya, Chonburi, and Nakhon Ratchasima. In-kind payments were equally widespread and included the provision of goods for villages and reimbursements for attending campaign events.
Electoral Violence did not occur as widespread as it might have been feared at the beginning of the campaign period. However, localized cases of violence did occur, notably the killing in Bangkok of a vote canvasser from Lopburi who was also an MP candidate’s brother just weeks before the election. The ECT in Narathiwat told an ANFREL observer about two attacks on transports of the electoral material after the count in constituency 4, one by bomb a one by gunfire. Both cases are under investigation. Campaign canvassers in Ayutthaya, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima and Kamphengphet have received threats to withdraw from the election competition.
The Election Commission has the mandate to provide voter education and collaborate broadly with political parties, the media, universities and schools to reach out to the public and remind people of their duty to vote. During the last week before July 3rd, rallies organized to encourage voter turnout were held in many provincial capitals. However, the types of voter education differed by province as it remained in the hands of the provincial ECT boards to manage voter education activities. The ECT has failed to inform non-resident voters sufficiently about the need to re-register in their home provinces in case they had registered to vote elsewhere in 2007, resulting in many disenfranchised and disappointed voters.
The Electoral law of Thailand does not provide for a voter to be given a replacement ballot in the event that they spoil their vote. Given this to be the case, it would imply that the number of ballot papers printed need not be more than the number of registered voters. The ANFREL observation mission has taken note of the fact that current law allows for 7% excess ballot papers to be printed. ANFREL therefore considers it a cause for concern that the ECT printed over 12% excess ballots for the 2011 election.
Although there is no set international standard, it is worth noting that even in countries that do allow for a replacement ballot, the number of excess ballot papers is generally a far lower percentage. The ANFREL observation mission calls on the ECT to clarify to the public their reasons for the printing of such a large percentage of excess ballot papers and account for unused ones.
Training of poll workers
The ECT trainings of trainers for the provincial and constituency levels of the electoral management were conducted very well by use of diverse adult training techniques. However, the last cascade of trainings – the trainings for directors of polling stations and polling staff – needs improvement as training groups were too large and the trainings themselves were too brief, often without simulations or practical exercises. On a positive note however, the instructions included information on the electoral changes since the last election and advice on responses to non-resident voters who could not cast their ballot on 26th June.
Under the 2007 Constitution, voting is mandatory in Thailand. To enable people to more easily comply with their constitutional duty, Advanced Voting is held one week prior to the polls. Around 2.8 million voters, both resident and non-resident, registered for the Advanced Voting that took place on Sunday 26th June 2011. In much of the country, the Advanced Voting was well administered, however, in urban centres voters who were able to cast their ballots were faced with long queues in some.
However, of the 2.09 million voters who registered for non-resident advance voting in 2007, a large number were not aware that their names remained on the Advanced Voting list in their former areas of residence. This meant that they were unable to vote in their home constituencies unless they had expressly requested the ECT to take their name off the Advanced Voting list. As a result, only ~55% of those voters registered for non-resident advance voting in 2011 voted compared to the ~87% that turned out for non-resident advance voting in 2007. It was unfortunate that this matter was not rectified by the ECT in time to allow for non-resident voters to cast their ballots on 3rd July.
Another contributing factor to the disenfranchisement of voters was the reduced timeframe for the duration of polling for Advanced Voting. While taking into account that this change was made at the request of political parties, ANFREL does not perceive this reduction in polling hours to be conducive to ensuring that people fulfill their constitutional duty. Advanced Voting in 2007 was conducted over two days from 08:00 – 17:00. In 2011 this was reduced to one day from 08:00 – 15:00, a reduction from 18 hours to 7 hours. Given large traffic congestion in the vicinity of the polling centres in urban centers and poor weather conditions in the north and north-east of the country, a number of people did not arrive at the polling centres in time to cast their vote.
Storage & Transport of Electoral Material
Despite the challenges to deliver all non-residential advanced votes to the right constituencies and to secure the storage of advanced ballots both in their home constituencies and along the transport chains, this process went remarkably well. The ECT, together with the Thai Post, reacted swiftly in re-directing ballot envelops that were delivered to the wrong locations. In their home constituencies, the ballots were stored under surveillance with CCTV equipment, although it was mentioned at some locations that this technology was not adequately monitored.
The storage of the sensitive electoral material the evening before Election Day – after its handover/ takeover from the constituency election officials to the heads of polling stations – was a sensitive moment in the process. Storage sites were diverse and ranged from ECT offices, governmental offices and police stations. Observers noted that many of the ballot boxes were also stored at the private houses of village heads and polling staff. However, this went well overall as observers found few incidents where the material could have been tampered with.
On Election Day July 3rd, the procedures to conduct opening, polling and closing were largely followed, with the exception being that in two thirds of the observed polling stations the names of voters were not called out aloud according to procedures. Observers witnessed minor inconsistencies in polling station management, including varying numbers of polling station staff, which can be addressed through more thorough training. In most observed cases, all assigned polling personnel reported for duty, and if not were replaced according to procedures. Most polling stations were located in public sites that were perceived as neutral. Although the integrity of the process was not questioned in principle, the set-up of polling stations – especially of those located outside – should be improved to guarantee the secrecy of the ballot at all times.
The polling stations closed in time. Unfortunately not all voters who were queuing outside polling stations at 3pm were allowed to vote as the rules and regulations proscribed. The counting of the constituency and the proportional ballot was often conducted simultaneously which although speeds up the process reduces the concentration, transparency, and oversight. Unused ballots were counted and then pierced to prevent further use. The used and unused ballot papers were reconciled against the turnout.
ANFREL observed invalid votes due to improper marking of the ballot as well as ballots left blank. Because of the politicization of the standard “vote no” option, it is possible that voters chose to intentionally invalidate their ballots as an alternative form of “no vote.” While this alone could have inflated the number of invalid ballots, ANFREL observers also witnessed many instances of marks drawn just outside of the box for marking on the ballot which made those ballots invalid.
The results of the counting were publicly announced and transparently posted in the polling stations. Where observed, the transport of the electoral material to the constituency offices, its reception and storage as well as the tallying of the results itself was organized in a secure and transparent manner. Credit goes to District level Administration Management for the organization and speed with which this process occurred in most areas.
Political Party Agents
Agents of political parties were present in more than half of the polling stations observed. The agents were largely allowed to follow the process inside the polling stations and have partly observed the transport of the electoral materials after the count. However, it was observed that only one party managed to field a large number of agents. In some locations, their access to polling stations was denied which is probably due to a lack of training of polling staff. Party agents were also present during the counting of advanced ballots at some locations, but did usually not make extensive use of the opportunity to observe the tally process.
Despite their commendable presence, it must be noted that many party agents were often not attentively following the conduct of the polls and were not sufficiently trained for their task. Political parties should better prepare party agents and make more active use of the opportunity to witness the polling, counting, and tallying procedures.
Neutrality of poll workers
The ECT could rely on the support of governmental officers on all levels of electoral management. Political parties and voters have sometimes questioned the neutrality of these officers before Election Day. ANFREL has observed some conflicts of interest of provincial administrators who were acting as polling staff and as vote canvassers at the same time. In most cases, however, the disputed neutrality of personnel involved in the electoral management remained on the level of allegations based on the lack of trust of segments of the electorate vis-à-vis the state administration.
Village Heads were often acting as heads of polling stations. This practice should be changed as many of these officials have political interests and considerable authority in their communities.
At the beginning of the campaign period, the military, the police, political parties and the media paid a lot of attention to security issues. The police has declared districts with potentially intensive competition as “red zones”. Expecting threats and intimidation during the race, many candidates have asked for special protection by the police. The Royal Thai Police has provided adequate security for the storage and transport of electoral materials and for polling stations during the advanced vote and on election day.
In the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat (which are under martial law) as well as in Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and Khon Kaen, soldiers who came to cast their ballots were carrying arms in polling stations – a clear violation of international best practices for elections.
The deep-routed conflict in the most-southern provinces Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat must not be forgotten. – Two attacks on the transport of electoral material on election day July 3rd have reminded of the recurring violence in the region only most recently. Whereas the sub-region has fortunately not seen the level of violence that marred the elections in 2007 during the last weeks, martial law is still in place and the conflict is far from being solved. The new government must address the grievances of the Malay Muslim minority population and must find ways to bridge the perceived gaps between Thais and Malays. Whatever format of enhanced participation and inclusion will be further developed, the new government must not forget its southernmost citizens when mapping out national reconciliation during the next weeks.
Freedom of Expression & Media
Freedom of expression in Thailand has suffered in the last several years, in regards to both the media as well as individuals. Ex-PM Thaksin used his position as PM and his business fortune to intimidate and harass press which he perceived as hostile to him. The 2006 coup which removed Thaksin further worsened the media environment in the country as the coup leaders used TV channels owned by the military and controlled by the state to push forward their own agenda while also maintaining martial law in much of the country. Since that time, as political polarization in the country has worsened, freedom of expression for individuals has worsened with it.
The nationwide broadcast channels are virtually all controlled by either the government or the military. Some of these operate through concessions to private companies that run the channel while others are more directly under the influence of the government. Because of this, many TV channels are perceived to be biased and unreliable sources of objective news.
More local and often on the other side of the political spectrum are community radio stations across the country, some licensed, some not, which are a source for local news and political talk. Many of these are used to mobilize and organize local members of the nationwide mass movements such as the UDD. Such stations are clear about their political affiliations, often calling themselves, Red Radio, etc.
Freedom of expression is restricted in Thailand through a number of laws including the Internal Security Act (2007), Computer Crimes Act (2007) and Lese Majeste legislation (Art. 112). These laws have resulted in the closure of websites, media restrictions, self-censorship etc. This is problematic during an electoral campaign as it puts restrictions on topics that can be discussed and therefore on a citizen’s access to public information.
- The registration for Advanced Voting should be conducted on a per election basis and the list should automatically expire at the end of each election season.
- The timeframe for Advanced Voting polling should be restored to two days or greater resources, facilities and staff should provided for single-day administration to enable all voters to cast their ballots.
- Campaign activities should be suspended during Advanced Voting as is the case for Election Day.
Election Management and Administration
- The electoral law should allow for registration of independent candidates.
- Complaint investigations by the ECT should be implemented in a timely, efficient and impartial manner and the 11 day rule with regard to the issuance of red and yellow cards should be respected.
- The ECT should consider engaging in regular consultations, through an institutionalized forum, with all electoral stakeholders (political parties, civil society, media).
- Village heads (phuyaiban) should not be part of the polling station staff.
- The relatively high numbers of excess ballot papers printed now should be controlled. Excess ballot totals must be justifiable and no higher than is absolutely necessary. The limit should be agreed by all stakeholders.
- The Electoral Law should have provisions in case of spoilt ballot papers and make allowance for a replacement ballot paper to be issued to voters who make a mistake prior to inserting.
- The regulations for invalidating ballot papers should be eased and the respect of the voters intention be made the guiding principle when assessing the validity of a ballot.
- The final ballot paper design should officially be approved by all political parties competing in the elections prior to the printing of the ballots.
- Ballot boxes should be standardized and made from clear plastic rather than cardboard metal.
- Civil society organizations should play in the electoral process, in particular in civic and voter education and national election observation.
- Election observers should be granted full access to all stages of the electoral process, including access inside polling stations, as per the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (2005).
- Recognising the important role of party agents in ensuring the credibility of an election, party agents should be provided with training and capacity to engage and participate at all stages of the electoral process.
- The legislature should revisit Section 94 of the Law on Political Parties to ensure the legal separation of political parties and their members. This would be with a view to ensure that wrongful acts of individual members of a political party are not held as grounds for dissolving a political party.
- The electoral law should make provisions to allow prisoners and people in hospitals to vote.