In 2018, the European Union reluctantly decided to resume relations with Thailand, based on a pledge by the junta that uprooted an elected democracy in 2014, that it would hold free and fair elections.
The farce that took place on March 24 of this year was so comically rigged that any attempt to call the election free and fair has to be met with outright scorn. The fraudulence of the events leading up to the election have only been matched by fraudulence of the events afterward in the junta’s so-far successful gambit to stay in power.
The details can be found in a 32-page report compiled by a newly-created organization named FORSEA, short for Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia, established by Southeast Asian democrats and rights campaigners committed to making the region more just, fair and democratic. One of the leaders of the organization is former Thai diplomat Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an Asia Sentinel contributor.
The report, titled Fraud, irregularities and dirty tactics: A report on Thailand’s 2019 elections, was released this week. The information was gathered from thousands of submission by outraged Thai citizens who witnessed and reported the fraud over the 10 days March 19-29.
What they found was an astonishing litany of electoral fraud – backed up in the report by voluminous exhibits – including willful publication of incorrect information about party candidates, miscounted ballots, setting up polling stations in unsuitable locations, failing to provide ballots to overseas voters, failure to deliver ballots from overseas, heavy state intimidation of voters, tampering with opposition election posters, pressure by election officers to support pro-junta parties, forcing voters to attend pro-junta party functions, forcing the military to vote, interfering with voters casting their votes and scores of other misuses.
Pro-government parties were allowed to set up posters in front of polling stations, pro-junta parties were allowed to continue campaigning on the eve of elections, opposition parties’ literature and posters were destroyed, there was suspicious funding for pro-junta parties, donation receipts for pro-junta parties were falsified, ballots were improperly transported in private pick-ups and mini-trucks instead of post office vehicles, ballot boxes were improperly secured, broken ballot box locks were found in trash piles, vote-buying was widespread, graveyards were voted along with underage voters, below the age of 18 and therefore ineligible to vote, found their names on the list of eligible voters and voters in pro-opposition areas found their names missing at their registered local polling station, according to CSI LA, an anonymous Thai activist group known for exposing fraud and corruption in the government.
Those election-day misuses were just the start. Even beforehand, Thai Raksa Chart Party, one of the stronger parties and closely affiliated with the Pheu Thai backed by for exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, was dissolved by order of the Constitutional Court after the party nominated Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, the daughter of the late King, Bhumibol Adulyadej and sister of the current King, Vajiralongkorn to be premier, a political earthquake that was considered tantamount to handing the election to the opposition. Vajiralongkorn said the entrance of royalty into politics was illegal and forced her to step aside although she had long since renounced her royalty to marry an American commoner.
The election was rigged from the start with a constitution written by the junta to make it virtually impossible for the opposition to govern even if it won a plurality of the votes – which it did. Pro-opposition parties, particularly Pheu Thai and Future Forward, along with a number of smaller parties, won enough of the vote to win the House of Representatives.
Due to the algorithm used to calculate the number of seats won by each party, the Pheu Thai Party, the surrogate for Thaksin, ended up winning the largest number of parliamentary seats with 135, followed by the pro-junta Palang Pracharat, which won 117.
Future Forward, an emerging political party spearheaded by a young billionaire, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, which has captured the imagination of Thailand’s young and is aligned with the opposition, won 80. The Democrat Party, which has dominated the country’s south and Bangkok, slipped to just 53, and Bhumjaithai, headed by maverick politician Newin Chitchob, won 51.
However, a week after the preliminary results were announced, the Election Commission, which is aligned with the junta, claimed it had discovered mysterious ‘uncounted ballots,’ which meant that all political parties received additional votes that gave the lead to the junta’s Palang Pracharat Party. Despite that, Pheu Thai remained the winner in terms of 137 parliamentary seats, followed by Palang Pracharat, with 118. Future Forward won 87, the Democrat Party, 55; and Bhumjaithai 52.
Although the number of seats meant Pheu Thai Party initially formed a coalition government with Future Forward Party and other, smaller parties, that has been stymied. Palang Pracharat party has claimed the right to set up a government. That has been ratified by King Vajiralongkorn, which is regarded by opponents as an unacceptable intrusion into politics by the royalty.
In any case, even though the opposition might take a majority of the 500 members of the House of Representatives, the 250 Senators appointed by the junta are allowed to vote in a joint session of the two houses of Parliament to select the prime minister, who does not need to be a member of Parliament himself. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who engineered the coup that brought down the elected government in 2014, will remain as premier.
The consequences for the Future Forward party are also menacing. Apparently alarmed at the party’s popularity and that of its leader, leader of the party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, as well as its Secretary-General, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the junta has accused Thanathorn of sedition for allegedly providing assistance to an individual who had led protests against the 2014 coup. Piyabutr has also been charged with allegations of computer crime and contempt of court.
“The charges against Future Forward leaders are meant to send a strong message from the Thai political elites, who appear unwilling to accept the results of the elections,” according to the report. “These elites are therefore searching for extra-parliamentary means to undermine their political opponents.”
Overall, “the information presented in this report exposes the systemic fraud and other irregularities during the 2019 election, pointing to a coordinated and methodical effort to facilitate the victory of pro-junta political forces, the authors write. “These activities completed the efforts of the junta before and after the election to cripple the democratic opposition and maintain control of the country, which this report briefly covers. The election, from its announcement to today, has made a mockery of Thailand’s democratic tradition.”
The organization calls on the Thai people and the international community to “reject the election’s results and call for a real election. The junta sees the election as means to assert its legitimacy while maintain dictatorial control over the country. It is today more crucial than ever that the world does not grant any legitimacy to the military junta.”