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EC in Thailand must explain flaws

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Leader of Palang Pracharath (power of people's state) Party Uttama Savanayana (5th R) attends a press conference after the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 24, 2019. The Thai party which has named Prayut Chan-o-cha as the prime minister candidate is leading the general election on Sunday. Palang Pracharath (power of people's state) Party reportedly has won more than 7.5 million votes, followed by Pheu Thai (for Thais) Party which has gained over 7 million votes, according to unofficial results of votes counted on late Sunday night by the Election Commission. Xinhua/Zhang Keren

Whether they are the result of incompetence on the part of the Election Commission (EC) or of systematic efforts to rig the general election on Sunday, the many flaws and irregularities detected at polling stations and during vote counting have to be fully explained to the public.

No substantial proof has yet been offered to point out that the reporting problems affected the overall election results that put the two big winners – the anti-regime Pheu Thai Party and the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party – in a close race to form a government. But the scale of the problem, exposed by poll watchdogs, political parties and social media users, is too significant to be ignored.

When it comes to vote counting, observers revealed that the tabulation and consolidation of ballots was deeply flawed and highly inaccurate.

Additionally, there have been allegations circulated on social media about the number of ballots exceeding voters in certain areas, and turnouts said to be double the number of registered voters. Unfortunately, the EC has refused to provide an explanation for these incidents.

Anti-regime parties, such as Future Forward and Pheu Thai, have also cried foul over what they saw as the systematic use of state authority to influence the election process in ways that put them at a disadvantage over pro-regime parties.

Officials at some polling stations also failed to follow standard procedures and even gave inaccurate or incomplete information to voters. This could have been the cause of the 1.8 million invalidated ballots.

Even without these reported irregularities, many do not see this election as a free or fair contest because of a number of new election rules that prevent large parties from winning by a landslide.

The agency, whose five commissioners were appointed by the regime’s lawmakers, has also been questioned over its neutrality because of many decisions it has made that favoured the pro-regime parties. These include its alleged gerrymandering of electoral constituencies and the clearing allegations of wrongdoing made against pro-junta candidates without giving a sound rationale.

Instead of addressing the problems in a straightforward manner, the EC has made matters worse. It has blamed the inaccuracy in the vote count on the media for their failure to keep up with the raw data. At the same time, it has been reluctant to clarify whether these flaws and irregularities were caused by unpreparedness in its overall organisation of the poll or the work of state officials as alleged.

Even though the EC admitted that the vote count inaccuracies were also caused by human error among its officials and system hacks, it has not revealed how much these factors have affected the entire vote counting process. Poll watchdogs also pointed out the lack of transparency in the process due to the EC’s malpractice, including a lack of volunteer observers at polling stations to monitor and prevent fraud.

The EC has so far only revealed the names of constituency winners. It plans to disclose the actual votes they received this Friday – a timeline which political parties see as too late.

To call last Sunday’s general election a sham may be premature. But if the EC has not done anything constructive or credible to quell doubts about the irregularities, then suspicions will mount that the agency has something to hide.

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