In Thailand, Re-Engagement with Elections is Crucial
BANGKOK, 03 February 2014 – The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) commends today those that participated in Thailand’s 02nd February Election. Voters with diverse views, including those voting for parties as well as those exercising their right to “vote no” on the ballot, should be complimented for engaging in such a core part of the democratic process. These voters going to polls despite the possibility of being blocked shows that they place value on the process itself and the rights they have as a part of that process. Indeed, many voters ANFREL spoke with expressed an admirable desire to “use their right” by coming out to vote. Also noteworthy was the bravery and commitment of those Polling Station staff that worked Sunday’s polls. They worked in the face of uncertainty and risk created by the political and electoral violence occurring in the day(s) and weeks before the poll. The commitment to the cause of electoral democracy shown by these groups, voters and polling station officials, should inspire others to re-engage with the democratic process.
ANFREL condemns violence in all its forms and calls for speedy, impartial investigations into the clash between rival camps that took place in the Laksi district of Bangkok on the eve of the Election. Similar investigations are needed into a growing number of violent incidents that have taken place since the protest began in earnest in November. Authorities must provide security by protecting protesters and counter-protesters from attacks. ANFREL implores all parties to the conflict to categorically reject violence and re-commit to dialogue and a more peaceful means of conflict resolution.
On both advance voting day as well as Sunday’s General Election Day, ANFREL was deeply troubled by the tragically high numbers of people blocked from exercising their civil and political rights through the ballot. While the rights to Freedom of Assembly and protest remain deeply held values in democracies, those rights cease the moment they impede on fellow citizens’ equally important rights. The right to participate in the electoral process by voting is a fundamental part of Thailand’s democracy and indeed all democracies. To move both conflict resolution and reform forward, ANFREL appeals for all parties to move together to provide quick and fair resolution to this truly saddening situation by allowing all Thai citizens of voting age the right have their voice heard via by-elections. The Election Commission, admittedly operating in a difficult environment, will hopefully be able to better prepare for the necessary by-elections by moving proactively forward with a plan to hold the elections as is constitutionally mandated. Such a plan will require more systematic security and logistics planning with backup plans in place for possible attempts to block the poll.
Because Elections can be a means of conflict resolution and are unquestionably a foundational part of every democracy, it is doubly important that all parties to the political conflict in Thailand accept elections as a core tenet of Thai democracy. Doing so is not only good for the country but is also good for the goals of those protesters that desire good governance. Such laudable reform goals will only be achieved when protesters choose to take the longer, yet more sustainable, path of democratic reform that requires painstaking work that includes civic and voter education, political party and media reform, policy innovation, and an embracing of democracy and elections. Unconstitutional shortcuts to power will continue to undermine the long-term democratic reform goals held by many on the street. “Parties that appear hostile to elections and willing to disregard the choices that some voters make undermine both their long-term democratic goals and their electoral popularity. This makes the current opposition to elections actually counterproductive to the long-term goals of the protesters. Indeed, it is only by all parties re-committing to democratic processes such as elections and referendums that a way forward for inclusive reform and a sustainable peace can be found,” said ANFREL Chairman Mr. Damaso Magbual of the Philippines.