5th July 2011
Constitutional Amendments & Electoral System
The constitutional amendments and subsequent changes to the Electoral Law of early 2011 made significant changes to the electoral system. The number of elected members of parliament was increased from 480 to 500, divided between 375 elected from single member constituencies (first-past-the-post) and 125 elected from a proportional party list. To implement the new electoral system, the earlier constituency boundaries had to be withdrawn. To which extent this provides an equality of the vote nation-wide and how its results affect the political landscape still has to be further assessed. The political impact of the shift towards a larger proportional representation block of MPs will also be explored in ANFREL’s final report.
The Political Campaign
The campaign atmosphere was rather quiet due to the fact that most campaign activities consisted of small meetings or rallies, door-to-door visits, the use of campaign vehicles etc. with the exception of the leading political candidates on tour. Village headmen often organized campaign events on community grounds in behalf of the canvassers or candidates. In-kind payments to attend campaign events occurred regularly.
Allegations concerning vote buying were widespread during the campaign period and increased before Election Day. ANFREL observers have collected direct reports of this type of malpractice in, among others, Narathiwat, Phuket, Ayuthaya, Chonburi, and Nakhon Ratchasima. In-kind payments were equally widespread and included the provision of goods for villages and reimbursements for attending campaign events.
Electoral Violence did not occur as widespread as it might have been feared at the beginning of the campaign period. However, localized cases of violence did occur, notably the killing in Bangkok of a vote canvasser from Lopburi who was also an MP candidate’s brother just weeks before the election. The ECT in Narathiwat told an ANFREL observer about two attacks on transports of the electoral material after the count in constituency 4, one by bomb a one by gunfire. Both cases are under investigation. Campaign canvassers in Ayutthaya, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima and Kamphengphet have received threats to withdraw from the election competition.
The Election Commission has the mandate to provide voter education and collaborate broadly with political parties, the media, universities and schools to reach out to the public and remind people of their duty to vote. During the last week before July 3rd, rallies organized to encourage voter turnout were held in many provincial capitals. However, the types of voter education differed by province as it remained in the hands of the provincial ECT boards to manage voter education activities. The ECT has failed to inform non-resident voters sufficiently about the need to re-register in their home provinces in case they had registered to vote elsewhere in 2007, resulting in many disenfranchised and disappointed voters.
The Electoral law of Thailand does not provide for a voter to be given a replacement ballot in the event that they spoil their vote. Given this to be the case, it would imply that the number of ballot papers printed need not be more than the number of registered voters. The ANFREL observation mission has taken note of the fact that current law allows for 7% excess ballot papers to be printed. ANFREL therefore considers it a cause for concern that the ECT printed over 12% excess ballots for the 2011 election.
Although there is no set international standard, it is worth noting that even in countries that do allow for a replacement ballot, the number of excess ballot papers is generally a far lower percentage. The ANFREL observation mission calls on the ECT to clarify to the public their reasons for the printing of such a large percentage of excess ballot papers and account for unused ones.
Training of poll workers
The ECT trainings of trainers for the provincial and constituency levels of the electoral management were conducted very well by use of diverse adult training techniques. However, the last cascade of trainings – the trainings for directors of polling stations and polling staff – needs improvement as training groups were too large and the trainings themselves were too brief, often without simulations or practical exercises. On a positive note however, the instructions included information on the electoral changes since the last election and advice on responses to non-resident voters who could not cast their ballot on 26th June.
Under the 2007 Constitution, voting is mandatory in Thailand. To enable people to more easily comply with their constitutional duty, Advanced Voting is held one week prior to the polls. Around 2.8 million voters, both resident and non-resident, registered for the Advanced Voting that took place on Sunday 26th June 2011. In much of the country, the Advanced Voting was well administered, however, in urban centres voters who were able to cast their ballots were faced with long queues in some.
However, of the 2.09 million voters who registered for non-resident advance voting in 2007, a large number were not aware that their names remained on the Advanced Voting list in their former areas of residence. This meant that they were unable to vote in their home constituencies unless they had expressly requested the ECT to take their name off the Advanced Voting list. As a result, only ~55% of those voters registered for non-resident advance voting in 2011 voted compared to the ~87% that turned out for non-resident advance voting in 2007. It was unfortunate that this matter was not rectified by the ECT in time to allow for non-resident voters to cast their ballots on 3rd July.
Another contributing factor to the disenfranchisement of voters was the reduced timeframe for the duration of polling for Advanced Voting. While taking into account that this change was made at the request of political parties, ANFREL does not perceive this reduction in polling hours to be conducive to ensuring that people fulfill their constitutional duty. Advanced Voting in 2007 was conducted over two days from 08:00 – 17:00. In 2011 this was reduced to one day from 08:00 – 15:00, a reduction from 18 hours to 7 hours. Given large traffic congestion in the vicinity of the polling centres in urban centers and poor weather conditions in the north and north-east of the country, a number of people did not arrive at the polling centres in time to cast their vote.
Storage & Transport of Electoral Material
Despite the challenges to deliver all non-residential advanced votes to the right constituencies and to secure the storage of advanced ballots both in their home constituencies and along the transport chains, this process went remarkably well. The ECT, together with the Thai Post, reacted swiftly in re-directing ballot envelops that were delivered to the wrong locations. In their home constituencies, the ballots were stored under surveillance with CCTV equipment, although it was mentioned at some locations that this technology was not adequately monitored.
The storage of the sensitive electoral material the evening before Election Day – after its handover/ takeover from the constituency election officials to the heads of polling stations – was a sensitive moment in the process. Storage sites were diverse and ranged from ECT offices, governmental offices and police stations. Observers noted that many of the ballot boxes were also stored at the private houses of village heads and polling staff. However, this went well overall as observers found few incidents where the material could have been tampered with.
On Election Day July 3rd, the procedures to conduct opening, polling and closing were largely followed, with the exception being that in two thirds of the observed polling stations the names of voters were not called out aloud according to procedures. Observers witnessed minor inconsistencies in polling station management, including varying numbers of polling station staff, which can be addressed through more thorough training. In most observed cases, all assigned polling personnel reported for duty, and if not were replaced according to procedures. Most polling stations were located in public sites that were perceived as neutral. Although the integrity of the process was not questioned in principle, the set-up of polling stations – especially of those located outside – should be improved to guarantee the secrecy of the ballot at all times.
The polling stations closed in time. Unfortunately not all voters who were queuing outside polling stations at 3pm were allowed to vote as the rules and regulations proscribed. The counting of the constituency and the proportional ballot was often conducted simultaneously which although speeds up the process reduces the concentration, transparency, and oversight. Unused ballots were counted and then pierced to prevent further use. The used and unused ballot papers were reconciled against the turnout.
ANFREL observed invalid votes due to improper marking of the ballot as well as ballots left blank. Because of the politicization of the standard “vote no” option, it is possible that voters chose to intentionally invalidate their ballots as an alternative form of “no vote.” While this alone could have inflated the number of invalid ballots, ANFREL observers also witnessed many instances of marks drawn just outside of the box for marking on the ballot which made those ballots invalid.
The results of the counting were publicly announced and transparently posted in the polling stations. Where observed, the transport of the electoral material to the constituency offices, its reception and storage as well as the tallying of the results itself was organized in a secure and transparent manner. Credit goes to District level Administration Management for the organization and speed with which this process occurred in most areas.
Political Party Agents
Agents of political parties were present in more than half of the polling stations observed. The agents were largely allowed to follow the process inside the polling stations and have partly observed the transport of the electoral materials after the count. However, it was observed that only one party managed to field a large number of agents. In some locations, their access to polling stations was denied which is probably due to a lack of training of polling staff. Party agents were also present during the counting of advanced ballots at some locations, but did usually not make extensive use of the opportunity to observe the tally process.
Despite their commendable presence, it must be noted that many party agents were often not attentively following the conduct of the polls and were not sufficiently trained for their task. Political parties should better prepare party agents and make more active use of the opportunity to witness the polling, counting, and tallying procedures.
Neutrality of poll workers
The ECT could rely on the support of governmental officers on all levels of electoral management. Political parties and voters have sometimes questioned the neutrality of these officers before Election Day. ANFREL has observed some conflicts of interest of provincial administrators who were acting as polling staff and as vote canvassers at the same time. In most cases, however, the disputed neutrality of personnel involved in the electoral management remained on the level of allegations based on the lack of trust of segments of the electorate vis-à-vis the state administration.
Village Heads were often acting as heads of polling stations. This practice should be changed as many of these officials have political interests and considerable authority in their communities.
At the beginning of the campaign period, the military, the police, political parties and the media paid a lot of attention to security issues. The police has declared districts with potentially intensive competition as “red zones”. Expecting threats and intimidation during the race, many candidates have asked for special protection by the police. The Royal Thai Police has provided adequate security for the storage and transport of electoral materials and for polling stations during the advanced vote and on election day.
In the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat (which are under martial law) as well as in Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and Khon Kaen, soldiers who came to cast their ballots were carrying arms in polling stations – a clear violation of international best practices for elections.
The deep-routed conflict in the most-southern provinces Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat must not be forgotten. – Two attacks on the transport of electoral material on election day July 3rd have reminded of the recurring violence in the region only most recently. Whereas the sub-region has fortunately not seen the level of violence that marred the elections in 2007 during the last weeks, martial law is still in place and the conflict is far from being solved. The new government must address the grievances of the Malay Muslim minority population and must find ways to bridge the perceived gaps between Thais and Malays. Whatever format of enhanced participation and inclusion will be further developed, the new government must not forget its southernmost citizens when mapping out national reconciliation during the next weeks.
Freedom of Expression & Media
Freedom of expression in Thailand has suffered in the last several years, in regards to both the media as well as individuals. Ex-PM Thaksin used his position as PM and his business fortune to intimidate and harass press which he perceived as hostile to him. The 2006 coup which removed Thaksin further worsened the media environment in the country as the coup leaders used TV channels owned by the military and controlled by the state to push forward their own agenda while also maintaining martial law in much of the country. Since that time, as political polarization in the country has worsened, freedom of expression for individuals has worsened with it.
The nationwide broadcast channels are virtually all controlled by either the government or the military. Some of these operate through concessions to private companies that run the channel while others are more directly under the influence of the government. Because of this, many TV channels are perceived to be biased and unreliable sources of objective news.
More local and often on the other side of the political spectrum are community radio stations across the country, some licensed, some not, which are a source for local news and political talk. Many of these are used to mobilize and organize local members of the nationwide mass movements such as the UDD. Such stations are clear about their political affiliations, often calling themselves, Red Radio, etc.
Freedom of expression is restricted in Thailand through a number of laws including the Internal Security Act (2007), Computer Crimes Act (2007) and Lese Majeste legislation (Art. 112). These laws have resulted in the closure of websites, media restrictions, self-censorship etc. This is problematic during an electoral campaign as it puts restrictions on topics that can be discussed and therefore on a citizen’s access to public information.
– The registration for Advanced Voting should be conducted on a per election basis and the list should automatically expire at the end of each election season.
– The timeframe for Advanced Voting polling should be restored to two days or greater resources, facilities and staff should provided for single-day administration to enable all voters to cast their ballots.
– Campaign activities should be suspended during Advanced Voting as is the case for Election Day.
Election Management and Administration
– The electoral law should allow for registration of independent candidates.
– Complaint investigations by the ECT should be implemented in a timely, efficient and impartial manner and the 11 day rule with regard to the issuance of red and yellow cards should be respected.
– The ECT should consider engaging in regular consultations, through an institutionalized forum, with all electoral stakeholders (political parties, civil society, media).
– Village heads (phuyaiban) should not be part of the polling station staff.
– The relatively high numbers of excess ballot papers printed now should be controlled. Excess ballot totals must be justifiable and no higher than is absolutely necessary. The limit should be agreed by all stakeholders.
– The Electoral Law should have provisions in case of spoilt ballot papers and make allowance for a replacement ballot paper to be issued to voters who make a mistake prior to inserting.
– The regulations for invalidating ballot papers should be eased and the respect of the voters intention be made the guiding principle when assessing the validity of a ballot.
– The final ballot paper design should officially be approved by all political parties competing in the elections prior to the printing of the ballots.
– Ballot boxes should be standardized and made from clear plastic rather than cardboard metal.
– Civil society organizations should play in the electoral process, in particular in civic and voter education and national election observation.
– Election observers should be granted full access to all stages of the electoral process, including access inside polling stations, as per the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation (2005).
– Recognising the important role of party agents in ensuring the credibility of an election, party agents should be provided with training and capacity to engage and participate at all stages of the electoral process.
– The legislature should revisit Section 94 of the Law on Political Parties to ensure the legal separation of political parties and their members. This would be with a view to ensure that wrongful acts of individual members of a political party are not held as grounds for dissolving a political party.
– The electoral law should make provisions to allow prisoners and people in hospitals to vote.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) wishes to congratulate the people of Thailand for turning out in large numbers to exercise their democratic right in a peaceful and orderly manner. Further, ANFREL wishes to compliment the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) for their management of the General Elections on July 3rd 2011. ANFREL also wishes to acknowledge the contribution of all of the Electoral Supporting Organizations such as the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Education as well as the Thai Post, Thai Airways, and the Royal Thai Police. Given the tense political situation in the country, the ECT performed admirably to manage a process that has produced election results that generally seem to reflect the will of the people. After years of political turmoil and violence that have divided the country, Thailand’s citizens have voted and, no matter their political views, been able to express their political opinion in a peaceful and orderly way based on the rule of law.
Mr. Damaso Magbual, ANFREL’s Head of Mission, agreed when he said that “The election period, in particular Election Day on July 3rd, was managed well and without any major incident which would call into question the election’s results. Where problems and complaints exist, ANFREL encourages the ECT and all involved stakeholders to thoroughly investigate these cases and administer justice in a professional, objective, and timely manner.”
The campaign period leading up to the vote saw heated debates, numerous allegations of vote-buying, and isolated cases of electoral violence that are currently under investigation. Vote buying and the detrimental effect of money politics remains a long term challenge for Thailand. Electoral violence was seen in some areas across the country both before the 3rd as well as on election day. A number of canvassers and candidates were attacked and reports of intimidation were not uncommon.
ANFREL has significant concerns with regard to the advance voting day on June 26th. The use of 2007’s non-resident advance voter list as a foundation for this election disenfranchised between 500,000 and 1 million people. “Advance voter lists should be based only on those voters registering for advance voting during that election cycle,” offered Mr. Magbual. The ECT did not sufficiently inform voters of the need to re-register in 2011 through its voter education. To date, this issue is the most substantial problem encountered regarding election administration.
Secondly, the change from two days to only one for advance voting also left some of the larger voting centers in urban areas overwhelmed by queues and traffic long enough to dissuade busy voters. Both problems can be addressed and ANFREL hopes to see the new government consider both issues in the near future to avoid a repeat of such problems in the future.
The pre-election period also included a discussion of the ECT’s printing of more than 12% excess ballots. The ECT made a commendable effort to openly respond to complaints and questions on this issue, but did not explain why they seem to violate the relevant regulation that allows at most 7% excess ballots. As Mr. Magbual explained, “violations of the electoral law by an electoral management body such as the ECT are always regrettable because they lower the perceived legitimacy of the election and can damage the perception of neutrality and competence that the public has for the institution.” ANFREL encourages the ECT to clarify to the public the reasons for printing such a large percentage of excess ballots.
Regarding polling station staff, the role of village leaders (phuyaibahn) working or congregating at polling stations is worth noting because of the influence such leaders have. “In many countries within Asia, village chiefs are kept from working at polling stations because the enormous influence they command can unfairly sway voters,” explained Mr. Magbual. ANFREL observed many examples of phuyaibahn with compromised neutrality that were canvassers for political parties during the pre-election period.
After discovering many polling stations without any observers or party agents and knowing that observation plays an important role in providing electoral transparency, ANFREL wishes to encourage Thai civil society and political parties to play a more active and constructive role in strengthening the democratic process by engaging in more observation during the elections.
ANFREL was encouraged to find that the military generally acted professionally and neutrally throughout the election period. Some exceptions to this were instances where soldiers coming to vote brought their weapons inside polling stations in clear violation of internationally accepted principles. Partisan political statements by certain prominent military gave cause for concern. Going forward, it is hoped that the military will continue to exercise the professional restraint they showed on election day by allowing legitimately elected leaders to govern.
Regarding political actors accepting election outcomes, ANFREL is encouraged by Prime Minister Abhisit and the Democrat Party’s acceptance of election results when they conceded defeat to Pheu Thai on the night of the election. PM Abhisit should be commended for the graciousness of his move.
In the spirit of helping to consolidate the aspects of the electoral process to date and because every election has areas for improvement, ANFREL wishes to offer some constructive recommendations based on the observations of 60 observers working in the field. These recommendations are attached to the Preliminary Statement. ANFREL will continue to observe the electoral process in particular the finalization of and reactions to results and the complaints and appeals process. Both the preliminary findings and the recommendations will be further substantiated in a Final Report.
“Generally, despite some flaws, the election period to this point was orderly and provided the people a means through which to have their voices heard,” concluded Mr. Magbual.
With the organization of the advanced vote on Sunday 26th June, the ongoing electoral process in Thailand has entered a new phase: nearly 3 million voters, both residents and non-resident voters registered to cast their vote one week prior to the General Elections on 3rd July 2011. Voters across the country were able to cast their ballots in a largely quiet and well managed election environment.
ANFREL compliments the Election Commission of Thailand and all supporting organizations for their efforts to organize this advanced vote. At the same time, and based on the observations of 60 international observers across the country, ANFREL would like to comment on the conduct of this vote in light of the upcoming Election Day.
About 3.3 million voters who registered to vote in advance in 2007, some as non-residents, were not aware that their names remained on the advance voting list in their former areas. This fact left them unable to vote this year in their actual constituencies unless they had previously notified the ECT of their return home. As an alternative to the current system, advance voting registration should automatically expire at the end of each election season. In addition, voter lists were either not provided in sufficient numbers, or the access to the voter lists was managed in an haphazard manner at some polling locations, a shortcoming that should be addressed by the end of this week.
Polling Station management has seen small but significant inconsistencies both in the number of polling personnel on duty as well as what concerns the correct conduct of procedures, even in cases where polling stations were next to each other in the same polling centres. These managerial inconsistencies should be swiftly addressed by the ECT leadership during the yet to be held trainings for polling officials.
Polling Centers in Bangkok and other urban centres were planned for up to 100,000 voters. Whereas the logistics of this operation went remarkably well in most cases, it became evident that halving the advanced voting period from two days to one day caused traffic jams and led to overcrowded polling stations, resulting in some voters turning away without having cast their votes, especially in Bang Kapi (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Samut Prakarn, etc. In cases such as these, ECT commissioners should use their authority to order some polling station officials to extend their voting time when necessary.
Advanced voting day falls during the campaign period and, while campaigning was forbidden around polling locations, ANFREL advocates for the advanced voting date to be treated as an Election Day where campaign activities such as rallies, campaign vehicle circuits, and house-to-house visits should not be allowed at all.
The presence of party agents inside the polling stations was scarcer than one might have expected. ANFREL calls upon all political parties and their candidates to train and send more agents to witness the polls inside the polling station. ANFREL also reminds all political actors to conduct a fair campaign finish according to the Code of Conduct for Electoral Campaign.
Security was adequately provided for the advanced polls, but the voting of soldiers has raised significant concerns in some parts of the country: In Narathiwat, Pattani, and Songkhla, military personnel cast their ballots while carrying arms to polling stations. Additionally, over one thousand soldiers at a polling center in Kanchanaburi were given priority at the ballot box, causing regular voters to return to their homes disappointedly.
ANFREL calls upon the ECT and the supporting organizations, in particular the Royal Thai Police and the Thai Post, to maintain the transparency and accuracy that was observed during the close of the advanced vote and the handover/ takeover of ballot papers. The ballots must be stored securely during the entire week. The transmission of non-residential ballot papers must not invoke any doubt about the integrity of the transport chains and the accuracy of them being counted after the close of polls next Sunday.
ANFREL further calls upon the media to constructively support the electoral process without overemphasizing singular violent incidents; upon civil society organizations to continue the recruitment and training of national election observers; and upon the voters to make their decisions independently and to vote freely on Sunday 3rd July.
by Jayson V. Sabdilon, NAMFREL Regional Director for Mindanao
(NAMFREL volunteers are in Thailand as part of the observation mission delegation of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) to the country’s July 3 parliamentary election. Mr. Sabdilon is currently in southern Thailand.)
Thailand has successfully conducted its Advance Voting Day on June 26, 2011. The idea of having an advance voting day was made into law for the purpose of giving both local residents and non residents of a province/area the chance to exercise their compulsory duty of voting. Local residents include military men and other government officials of a Changwat (province) who will serve as polling staff or who will be under security details on the actual day of elections. They also include private citizens who have scheduled important business matters on election day. Non-residents on the other hand are those from other provinces (military men, officials on official assignment, businessmen, students and others) who cannot go home to their own towns to vote.
This year’s election turnout was very high for residents at 90% (of those who applied for advance voting) and a total of 2.64 million votes were cast for the advance voting. However, due to probable misunderstanding, only 55.67% of non residents were able to vote. Now this can create a problem come election day. Previous non residents who are now back in their hometowns cannot vote on July 3 if they have not cancelled their application for advance voting. Due to the very short notice this year (note that this year’s election has been hastily scheduled), many may have not cancelled their applications in time. Non-cancelled records are considered active, thus, the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) assumes that these non-residents retain their statuses as such and will vote in advance voting.
After the advance voting, the Thai books of voters are immediately updated and marked such that those who have already voted cannot vote again on election day. The votes are not counted until election day itself (July 3, 2011). The votes are stored in the administrators’ (police) district offices with CCTV cameras focused and made available to the public for inspection anytime. Votes from the non-residents are turned over to the Post Office personnel, sorted and then sent to the provinces of the voters for storage in the same manner.
It helps very much that the Kingdom of Thailand already has an updated and integrated database of all citizens. The data bank is the same source used for major government functions like taxation, health, education and etc. This of course does not guarantee that the system is perfect. It simply illustrates that the system works well.
This idea of an advance voting is to my analysis a very simple and effective mechanism that encourages the participation of more voters. In a country known for strongly valuing and defending democracy, the Philippines, I believe, will do well to adopt a similar strategy. This will allow the other key players (election administrators aka poll staff and military) to really become focused in their areas and assignments while not sacrificing their chance to vote. The same is also especially true of the thousands of students and business people who still wish to actively participate in the elections but could not. Having started giving the chance to our overseas countrymen, our Commission on Elections (Comelec) should rethink and revise the policies to include advance voting.
However, for this to come to fruition, the Philippine government must first institute the necessary conditions that made it possible for Thailand to implement the mechanism. First and foremost, the implementation of a National ID card becomes more and more practical. It makes the record verification and then integration by government agencies easier and faster. Second is for the Comelec to make sure that the official Lists of Voters are always and immediately updated. One would think that it may be as simple as plugging in with the Civil Registrar’s and National Statistical Office to generate a reliable Voter’s List and yet, the voter’s lists’ correctness has always been suspect every election in the Philippines. The Comelec sometimes even have different versions at the national and local level.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is having a reliable and trustworthy mechanism for the transport and storage of advance votes cast at least until election day. This is a very big hurdle because Philippine security officials themselves are even linked to partisan activities, not to mention the absence of simple technological support such as installation of fully working CCTV cameras in all storage places.
Overall, it can be said that the responsibility of building up such a mechanism for voters are in the hands of the very institutions who run the elections. When we have an election management body that can plan, implement and secure a mechanism by seriously studying systems in neighboring countries and engaging in dialogue with civil society and poll watch organizations, we are halfway towards electoral systems reform. This of course must be fully supported and complemented by a government leadership that has the vision and political will to strengthen democratic institutions by passing legislative measures and implementing them without delay. When this is accomplished, it does not take much to encourage the Filipino citizens to responsibly exercise their right to vote in advance.
NAMFREL’s note: The Philippine Overseas Absentee Voting Act (Republic Act No. 9189) allows advance absentee voting for Filipino citizens residing or working outside the Philippines. Local absentee voting is also allowed as per Republic Act No. 7166 and Executive Order No. 157 for members of the Armed Forces (AFP), police (PNP), and government personnel on duty on election day. Currently, House Bill No. 4241 allowing advance voting for media personnel, is still pending in Congress.
Namfrel volunteers are in Thailand as part of the observation mission delegation of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) to the country’s July 3 parliamentary election. Here are some photos from them.
NAMFREL National Council member and ANFREL chairperson Damaso Magbual with Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at a candidates’ debate in Bangkok on June 24. Thailand will hold its parliamentary election on July 3.
NAMFREL National Council member and ANFREL chairperson Damaso Magbual with Phue Thai Party chairman Yongyuth Vichaidit (right) at the same candidates’ debate on June 24.
Mr. Magbual with ANFREL representatives in a meeting on June 29 with the Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police about the security plan for the coming election.
Thailand held advance voting on June 26. This photo was taken in southern Thailand on said day. Voters sat outside this hall to wait for their turn. Their names were called by batch and the voters were requested to form a line for identity checks prior to admission into a polling station. Girl/Boy scouts from nearby schools assisted in locating names and precincts. (It should be noted that about a week prior to elections, all citizens were to receive notice by mail from the election commission about their precinct location).
NAMFREL Regional Director for Mindanao Jayson Sabdilon (left) confers with a staff of the Election Commission in southern Thailand. Mr. Sabdilon is in the country as an ANFREL observer for the July 3 parliamentary election.
NAMFREL Projects Committee chair Corazon Ignacio poses for a photo with a monk in northern Thailand. There are about 300,000 monks among Thailand’s population of 68 million. Monks do not vote because they are supposed to be “neutral, peaceful, and detached from worldly concerns.”
NAMFREL Projects Committee chair Corazon Ignacio visits a young candidate in his office in northern Thailand.
Since its inception, NAMFREL has always been an early adapter of information and communication technologies to empower its volunteers in carrying out their election and good governance monitoring tasks.
In 1984 for the Batasang Pambansa election, NAMFREL started using amateur and citizens band radio and fax machines to transmit election results. For the 1986 Snap election, fax machines were used extensively by NAMFREL throughout the country for the Operation Quick Count. Telex was also utilized during NAMFREL’s first decade, as well as short-wave, single-side band, and two-way radios, which the organization still used for the 2010 elections. It was also during this period that networked personal computers as well as automated spreadsheets were utilized to encode results coming from precinct election returns.
In the 1990s, with the rise of the internet, NAMFREL started using email to communicate with the different chapters. Towards the latter part of the decade, NAMFREL had partnered with service providers to ensure that all its chapters, where internet is supported, had email addresses and stable internet connection. There was also limited use of mobile cellular telephones and pagers. NAMFREL also launched its first website in the late ’90s, which contained materials that volunteers could use in mobilizing and in voter education. The NAMFREL newsletter was also born, which was sent via mail or email.
For the 2001 elections, NAMFREL made sure that its volunteers (at least the provincial chairpersons) had cellular phones. SIM cards and pre-paid cards were also distributed to all the chapters. For the 2004 elections, texting and online submissions were first utilized in the conduct of Operation Quick Count. NAMFREL also effectively used tri-media (print, radio, and television) in voter education and information dissemination.
In the past few years, with the rise of social media, NAMFREL started using Facebook and Twitter (and other services like YouTube, Google Maps, and Picasa) to distribute election-related news and information, and to have direct communication with volunteers and non-volunteers alike. The NAMFREL website was also re-launched, now containing not only news, but also archival materials for researchers and casual browsers. NAMFREL utilizes open source GIS & online mapping features to enhance user reporting & information access.
For the 2010 elections, volunteers and the public were able to sign-up as volunteers, and directly send to NAMFREL incident reports with media attachments, through the NAMFREL website. Cloud computing and crowd sourcing were also utilized to widen the coverage of its reporting and monitoring as well as uploading and storing electronic election results. The NAMFREL newsletter was also relaunched, now distributed only through the internet (email, website, and Scribd). NAMFREL also uses online communication tools like Skype and video conferencing in its operations.
In its good governance monitoring efforts, NAMFREL now also uses online tools like Google Docs and cloud services like Dropbox to enable volunteers to upload information, update documents, and collaborate in real time.
As expected, the November 7 parliamentary election in Burma was marred by fraud, eliciting condemnation from Burmese citizens and observers, election monitors, citizens in exile, Western governments, some Asian governments like the Philippines and Japan, and the United Nations.
Burmese media outlet in-exile The Irrawaddy enumerated some of the types of irregularities and fraud that took place on election day, as reported by citizens, reporters, and observers under cover: ballot stuffing, lack of secrecy in voting, faulty voters’ lists, unsealed or poorly secured ballot boxes, polling station officers’ bias (telling voters to vote for candidates belonging to the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party — USDP), illegal campaign, party members serving as polling station officers, proxy voting, violence and intimidation. Citizens reported that local officials supporting USDP had been collecting advance votes prior to election day, threatening people that they would lose their jobs or source of livelihood if they do not vote for USDP. These officials also reportedly forced individuals to change their votes if they voted for the opposition. Candidates also reportedly ticked ballots themselves.
Prior to polling day, the election had already been criticized for excluding many ethnic areas deemed critical of the junta. Oppositionists like Aung San Suu Kyi remain in detention and were not allowed to contest the election. International media and election observers were also barred from monitoring the election inside the country. The November 7 election has been generally viewed by citizens and Burma observers as a way to give a false sheen of democracy to a military junta keen on perpetuating its rule and further entrenching itself into Burmese society.
Unrest has been brewing since the lead-up to the polls. On November 5, leaders of six ethnic armies met in Thailand to forge an alliance, agreeing to fight together against the Burmese Army if one of them is attacked by the junta. This stemmed from their refusal to lay down their arms and agree to the demand of the junta to dismantle and join Myanmar’s “Border Guard Force” (BGF). The different ethnic groups have been fighting against the central Burmese government for decades to grant them independence or autonomy, in accordance with the 1947 Panglong Agreement they signed — initiated by General Aung San (Suu Kyi’s father) — which essentially created the country of Burma. (Aung San had since been assassinated, and the Agreement ignored by the central government). Most of them were on ceasefire status with the government, until the deadline to dismantle had passed and the junta started to label one of the ethnic armies, the popular Kachin Independent Army (KIA) as “insurgents,” sparking fears of imminent attack.
Yesterday, November 8, fighting broke out between the Burmese Army and a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) (itself a splinter group from the Karen National Union which is party to the ethnic alliance) at the Thai/Burma border in Myawaddy. Several people reportedly have already been killed or injured, while at least 5,000 refugees have started to pour into the Thai border town of Mae Sot, already home to thousands of Burmese refugees. The DKBA faction, which initiated the attack on government facilities, said this is in reaction to the junta’s decree to dismantle and join the BGF, and the unfairness of the electoral process. The KIA already said they are on high alert, although none of the members of the newly formed alliance have expressed that they will join the DKBA group in fighting against the Burmese Army.