WATCH­ING THE VOTE

Bangkok Post - - 7 DAYS - By Alan Daw­son

>> For­eign and Thai groups want of­fi­cial ac­cred­i­ta­tion to mon­i­tor the next gen­eral elec­tion, when­ever it oc­curs. And the gov­ern­ment has in­stantly in­vited all such groups to kick rocks.

So now it’s a de­bate, and an im­por­tant part of the de­bate is that no Thai gov­ern­ment, since Earth cooled, has agreed to al­low for­eign ob­servers or mon­i­tors.

There never has been a gov­ern­ment-ap­proved team or a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored in­di­vid­ual look­ing at the prepa­ra­tion, the vot­ing or the post-elec­tion judge­ment of any elec­tion’s par­tic­i­pa­tory free­dom or fair­ness. Ever.

Equally im­por­tant is that there’s no recorded in­stance of gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence or im­ped­ing groups and in­di­vid­u­als watch­ing the birth and life of a Thai elec­tion cam­paign, from start to the post-cli­max cig­a­rette.

So in essence, if a bunch of Eu­ro­pean peo­ple want to be present at the com­ing elec­tion, as­sum­ing there is go­ing to be one — bring it on.

That’s what news peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, have al­ways done, are cur­rently do­ing and, one hopes, will al­ways do. There’s re­ally noth­ing out of bounds ex­cept for walk­ing up be­hind a per­son who is vot­ing and look­ing di­rectly over her shoul­der.

The prob­lem that al­ways has arisen and is aris­ing is that the EU and P-Net and oth­ers on the way want of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion and spe­cial help. They seem to be­lieve that sta­tus will make their post-elec­tion re­port cred­i­ble.

(For the record, we think of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion and spoon-feed­ing and se­lec­tion of vis­its gives mon­i­tors less cred­i­bil­ity. No news per­son or or­gan­i­sa­tion would ac­cept such gov­ern­ment help and ex­pect their re­ports to re­ceive hon­our. But that’s us.)

Prior to the ill-tem­pered elec­tion cam­paign of 2011, where Pheu Thai emas­cu­lated the 2006-7 mil­i­tary coup by plac­ing a woman in the prime min­is­ter’s chair, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion had of­fi­cially per­mit­ted and recog­nised the Asian-manned, Bangkok-head­quar­tered An­frel to mon­i­tor cam­paigns and vot­ing.

The work of An­frel — Asian Net­work for Free Elec­tions — was cred­i­ble, and thus crit­i­cal to world ac­cep­tance of the over­all fair­ness of the vote.

But no credit for that rests on the Demo­crat-led gov­ern­ment of that time. Prime min­is­ter Ab­hisit Ve­j­ja­jiva and chief deputy Suthep Thaug­suban were quite surly on the sub­ject.

Mr Suthep, who saw like ev­ery­one that he was go­ing to lose, pur­posely and in­fa­mously rejected elec­tion mon­i­tors in the most in­sult­ing terms he could muster: “I don’t re­spect farang. We don’t have to sur­ren­der to them.”

And in the end, An­frel was of­fi­cially anointed by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. They and plenty of other in­for­mal ob­servers (in­clud­ing the me­dia) con­cluded, ba­si­cally in uni­son, that the vot­ing was mostly free and fair, but with a barely ac­cept­able level of com­plaints of cheat­ing.

Right now, For­eign Min­is­ter Don Pra­mud­winai, in­fin­itely more po­litely, is say­ing what Mr Suthep said. This year’s gov­ern­ment re­fuses to ac­credit ob­servers, just like ev­ery gov­ern­ment in the past.

Sure, elec­tion mon­i­tors from Eu­rope would likely add cred­i­bil­ity to the regime’s pro­ce­dures, but why take the chance?

Here’s some­thing you didn’t know. Last week, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion com­plained to a daily news­pa­per about one of its opin­ion columns that stated the gov­ern­ment, not the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, would set the 2019 (or what­ever) elec­tion date.

The EC was out­raged that the news­pa­per or any­one would think se­ri­ously it would ever al­low some gun-tot­ing, rule-mak­ing, junta-lead­ing re­tired gen­eral prime min­is­ter to set an elec­tion date. The con­sti­tu­tion says clearly that only the EC can do that. Sure.

Truth is the supreme law de­scribes the EC as an in­de­pen­dent body, and that no one, even a coup­meis­ter armed with a Sec­tion 44-mag­num is legally al­lowed to usurp its awe­some­ness.

Truth also is the mil­i­tary regime will do as it damn pleases for all kinds of rea­sons, not least of which is that ev­ery EC mem­ber is ap­pointed and serves at its whim.

But here’s a thought. The EC is right. Legally, it has to­tal power to set any rule on any pro­ce­dure in and around the elec­tion.

The gov­ern­ment can whine and bite the rug and rant about farang all it pleases, but who gets close to elec­tion pro­cesses and who gets in on the mak­ing of the elec­tion and who gets in­sider ac­cess to ev­ery polling sta­tion is up to the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion.

Let’s see how in­de­pen­dent they feel now. Let’s learn just how up to the task of run­ning a free and fair elec­tion the EC re­ally in­tends to be.

PHOTO: 123RF

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