Manipulation fears mount over Thai polls

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his ballot during the recent election. Xinhua

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s first general election since a 2014 army coup has been touted by the ruling military junta as a return to democratic rule, but two weeks after the vote, results are still unclear and allegations of manipulation are mounting.

Since the March 24 vote, figures linked to a “democratic front” of opposition parties say they have come under increasing pressure from police and the military.

The Election Commission has also indicated it would use a complex allocation formula for 150 “party seats” in the House of Representatives in a way that would likely dilute the opposition alliance’s seats in the 500-seat lower house.

The Election Commission has said it won’t announce even provisional winners of the 150 party seats until May 9, saying it needs time to order by-elections and vote recounts as well as to disqualify candidates who broke election laws.

But critics say the time gap allows the military-royalist establishment to manipulate results and disqualify opponents of the pro-army Palang Pracharat party that seeks to keep junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in power as an elected prime minister.

The leading opposition Pheu Thai party, made up of loyalists to army-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sees the delays and legal actions as an attempt to deny the “democratic front” enough seats in the House needed to block the main junta-linked party from unrestrained lawmaking power.

The Election Commission’s secretary-general, Jaroongwit Phumma, told Reuters the body is not helping the pro-military party.

“The election commission is neutral and adheres to the law. We don’t take sides or help one particular party,” Mr Jaroongwit said.

Palang Pracharat said it does not gain any advantages over opposition parties.

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