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Thai elections going nowhere and economy doing down

Updated On: Apr 21, 2006

One can be sure that the Thai elections are neither free nor fair judging by the number of vote-buying allegations going around.

In the Northeast alone, the Nation reported that “a candidate made a public speech and gave away T-shirts and money. [More incredibly], some voters were turned away as other people [ghost voters] had already used their names. The provincial election commission received reports of vote buying at Bt50-Bt300 per head in every district.”

This has caused the Asian Network for Free Elections to blast the Election Commission as “incompetent”. Network coordinator Somsri Harnananthasuk complained, “Such [inefficient and incompetent] work is detrimental to all candidates.” She also told the Nation that the electoral rule “should be changed to allow some limited campaigning within certain budgetary limits [as] well-known figures or people with senior positions are not necessarily good people.” Pongsak Chanon, another member of the network said, “Many ballot papers were nullified.”

This may mean the eventual Thai Rak Thai Party's domination of the regions. In the South, however, candidates linked to the opposition Democrats were leading, while the competition for Bangkok seems tied between Samak Sundaravej (a government supporter) and anti-Thaksin columnist Nitipoom Nawarat.

There has also been a series of violence, including point-blank shootings and bomb blasts, in the South aimed at disrupting the elections. Three people were killed and 17 others injured.  These attacks came a day after the state of emergency was extended for another three months, creating outcry among rights activists.

All this bodes ill for the Thai economy. Economists have forecast that “high oil prices, rising interest rates and political uncertainty will hurt private investment this year”. The Bangkok Post reported that “a survey by the Bank of Thailand, conducted in 2005, showed businesses had delayed new investment. Uncertainty over the mega-projects and rising interest rates has led to a slowdown in the construction and property sectors… Domestic consumption would no longer be a major push for the economy.”

This news comes amid PTT plc’s (Thailand's largest oil company) announcement that it has sought an approval to cut Thailand’s domestic diesel reserves to ease shortages. This has caused an outcry from truck and bus operators, the fishing industry as well as motorists. However, if reserves are not adjusted downwards, PTT will need to import more diesel at the present high global oil prices. Other Thai oil companies are also considering raising retail prices.

Meanwhile, American businesses have offered to help lobby the US Congress in pushing the Thai-US FTA talks forward. The Bangkok Post reported Frances Zwenig, counselor for Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam Affairs of the US-ASEAN Business Council, as saying that “the free trade pact would boost US investment in Thailand, in particular from multinationals like General Electric, Time Warners, Chevron, New York Life and FedEx”. She emphasized that “the prolonged delay to the negotiations will discourage world-class companies from opting [to invest in] Thailand” and that further delays could mean the shift of multinational investment to China. The Post also reported  deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak saying earlier this week that “the country would suspend bilateral FTA talks with the US until the new government was formed”.

Sources:                                                
                                                                               
Senate: New faces, same old ties (The Nation, 20 April 2006)

EC's conduct panned as 'inefficient, incompetent' (The Nation, 20 April 2006)

Highlights of polling in the provinces yesterday (The Nation, 20 April 2006)                    

Attacks on polls, ballot convoys in South kill 3 (The Nation, 20 April 2006)                    

Cabinet gives nod to another extension of emergency act (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2006) 

Businesses delay new investment (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2006)                                 

Americans offer to help with talks (Bangkok Post, 19 April 2006)                                 

PTT wants to use reserves to ease shortage (The Nation, 18 April 2006)