Thursday, 18 Apr 2024

Opinion | Thaksin Shinawatra: The Election in Thailand Was Rigged

HONG KONG — I knew that the junta running Thailand wanted to stay in power, but I cannot believe how far it has gone to manipulate the general election on Sunday. I’m surprised, even going by the standards set by this government, and I don’t think I’m the only Thai to be.

The election commission stopped releasing results on Sunday night and announced that it would postpone delivering them until Monday afternoon. The numbers that were disclosed kept changing. As of Monday evening, as I was writing this, official preliminary results had yet to be disclosed. I don’t think there has ever been such a delay in Thailand’s modern history. The junta clearly is afraid.

In some areas, the number of ballots seemed to exceed the number of voters. In others, voter turnout was reported to be 200 percent. The national election commission issued results for some constituencies that didn’t match those reported by officials at the polling stations. A suspiciously large number of ballots were invalidated. There also were reports that some ballots, although marked improperly, were counted as votes for Palang Pracharat, the military’s proxy party.

The election commission has the authority to issue penalties known as red cards to candidates for wrongdoing. It deserves one itself.

Some of these errors were subsequently corrected, but knowing how the junta operates, it’s impossible not to suspect serious interference.

The junta appointed the election commission and has interfered with the work of what are supposed to be independent agencies and institutions. It wrote a new, very tricky and self-serving Constitution. Thailand can’t seem to change its outdated criminal laws or even car-registration regulations, but it rewrites its Constitution often.

Election rules were revised to weaken large parties. Double standards were applied when it came to determining who could run for the position of prime minister or who counts as a “state official.” Political opponents have been treated as enemies.

Whether or not the junta’s leaders now allow the pro-democracy parties to form a government, they will find a way to stay in charge. They have no shame, and they want to be in power no matter what. Their next move will probably be to lure away, by any means possible, members of Parliament from smaller parties. This has been a very expensive election.

Will pro-democracy parties be dissolved? Who knows? The junta’s leaders can do anything they want. When the chairman of the election commission was asked about results Sunday night, he said he couldn’t answer because he didn’t have a calculator with him. I assume he was being sarcastic, but it seemed clear that he had to stop — was he instructed to stop? — releasing the returns.

Palang Pracharat may be able to select the next prime minister without controlling a majority in the House of Representatives. But without a majority, the party will be heading a very unstable government.

None of what I am saying is about one party or another winning or losing. It’s about Thailand not losing. People in office are supposed to come and go while the system remains. This military government is ready to destroy the system simply to keep its people in power.

Yet if neither the rules of the game nor the referee are fair, the outcome will not be respected — neither by Thai people nor internationally. Thailand’s economy is weak, and in need of foreign investment, as a result of the junta’s mismanagement. The world economy will soon face headwind. How can this government be trusted to handle that challenge?

More than anything, Thailand should have a government that reflects the will of the people, not the will of the junta. This is a terrible, and sad, moment for my country.

Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister of Thailand from 2001 to 2006.

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