Thailand’s upcoming elections – when and how?

Updated On: Sep 04, 2007

There is much confusion over the upcoming elections in Thailand.

For one, the Thai government has flip-flopped, with PM Surayud Chulanont saying on Saturday (1 September) that the widely-expected date for the polls -23rd December –may well be postponed. For another, Thailand is now squabbling with the European Union (EU) over the latter’s offer to monitor the next elections. To the Thais, this is a grave insult of their competence to hold free, fair and democratic elections, arguing angrily that Thailand is “not a failed state”.

Ordinarily, an EU observation mission would not raise eyebrows. It is just that the EU’s application to monitor and observe is a bolt from the blue. The Bangkok Post criticized –“Why the sudden interest in the election in a country it has spent the past year refusing to formally acknowledge since the military coup overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra?”

The authorities are not convinced that Thaksin has laid to rest all his political ambitions. Coup leader, Sonthi Boonyaratglin, thinks that the EU’s election monitoring offer was instigated by Thaksin. An irate Sonthi snapped, “It's our right to hold elections. It's our internal matter. We already have a credible monitoring system to check elections. Thailand is a sovereign state and a democratic country. We have rights and freedoms, and other people must respect that.” Sonthi ominously added, “The old power might have misinformed the EU… I ask the Election Commission and the government to find out about the motive of the European Union's offer.” In addition, the army will also carry out its own investigations.

Jumping on the bandwagon of opposition is Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva . Abhisit insisted that “the Thai government should not sign a memorandum of understanding with the EU [for it] to officially monitor the election”, even if it were permitted “observer” status.

The EU has been quick to defend itself. EU ambassador to Thailand Antionio Felix Machado de Faria e Maya has tried to clear up the misunderstanding. He said, “The observation of elections is an important component of the EU's policy in promoting human rights and democratisation throughout the world. The EU always undertakes such activities on the basis of partnership with the host country. [The mission will] not interfere in the electoral process –let alone the sovereignty –of the host country.” He also said that EU-Thailand relations would not be soured if Thailand did not accept the EU’s offer.

Added to this “insult” to the military-backed Thai government are the suspicions that the newly-established People’s Power Party –said to be the reincarnation of the former Thai Rak Thai –is ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s puppet. However, Thaksin’s lawyer, Noppadol Pattama, has stridently denied this, saying that Thaksin has “resolved not to provide financial or moral support for, or interfere with the affairs of the People's Power Party led by outspoken former Bangkok governor and veteran politician Samak Sundaravej”. Thaksin has contested that what he desires is for Thailand to hold a “fair and clean election and [that] the parliament will not be swayed by any unbecoming party”, Noppadol said. Incidentally, Noppadol is now the deputy People’s Power Party secretary general.

With the promised elections having an uncertain date, the authorities spooked by possible Thaksin-initiated mischief and Sonthi being unwilling to lift martial law on the country, it is hard to imagine Thailand holding a fair election under a “normal situation” as Surayud contended.  (3 September 2007)

Sources:Democracy is not negotiable (Bangkok Post, 3 September 2007)

How the EU offends (Bangkok Post, 2 September 2007)EU seeks to reassure Thailand over election observers (Bangkok Post, 2 September 2007)

Sonthi casts doubt on "unreasonable terms" by EU over election monitoring (Nation, 2 September 2007)Abhisit opposes to MOU signing with EU (Nation, 2 September 2007)Thai PM says general election could be later (TNA, 1 September 2007)

Thaksin vows to stay out of politics (Bangkok Post, 31 August 2007)
Thai junta leader orders probe into EU election observers (Forbes, 31 August 2007)-----

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