The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) is the region’s top election monitoring group and consists of many national groups from many Asian countries and thus has an international board of directors. Since 1997, its mission has been “to promote and support democratization at national and regional levels in Asia.”
The network’s sole Thai board member made some astonishing comments earlier this week as Thailand prepares for general elections on February 2 that have been rejected by the ongoing anti-election protesters, as they obstructed advance voting last Sunday all across Bangkok and parts of the South and are expected to repeat that again this Sunday.
In a story by GlobalPost‘s Patrick Winn, ANFREL’s Sakool Zuesongdham said…
“Voters are quite naive about politics,” Sakool said. “They have to work hard every day and don’t have time to catch up with information. They only hear the government’s side.
“These protesters have high aspirations to change Thai politics,” he said. “If the prime minister still insists on this election that means she’s very stupid.”
“In Bangkok, voting demands nerves of steel“, by Patrick Winn, GlobalPost, January 29, 2014
Sakool, while veiled in his choice of words, is regurgitating the same line that supporters of the current caretaker government ruled by the Pheu Thai Party and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are ignorant, hard-working but uneducated farmers easy to be swayed by one side – despite the fact that the reality nowadays looks quite different.
He also insinuates that all would-be voters are automatically government supporters, which is a ridiculous statement, since there are 53 parties on the ballot and there’s still a “No Vote” option, should none suit the voter’s preference. Also, while under any circumstances a Pheu Thai victory is a forgone conclusion, the main opposition Democrat Party decided to boycott these elections.
In the light of these obviously anti-election statements by a Thai election observer, ANFREL distanced itself from Sakool in a statement published on its Facebook page:
ANFREL would like to note that the quotes from Mr. Sakool Zuesongdham in the GlobalPost article below reflect only his own personal views. They do not represent the views or positions of ANFREL as a whole as Sakool was speaking on his own behalf rather than as an ANFREL official. ANFREL has always encouraged the empowerment of all citizens to exercise their right to vote and hopes that all citizens can freely do so in Thailand.
Facebook update by ANFREL, January 30, 2014
Indeed, ANFREL did express its concern over the recent (partly violent) advance voting obstructions by anti-election mobs.
Having said that, there have been other ANFREL personnel also showing problematic sentiments in the past.
The People’s Army has called for a peaceful demonstration today at Lumpini Park (…) yesterday revealed the names of 30 high-ranking officials, including military men, who back the group in its campaign to bring down the Thaksin regime.
The group, led by Admiral Chai Suwannaphap, Thaikorn Polsuwan and General Preecha Iamsupan, held a press conference announcing the names of supporters. These include former Army chief General Wimol Wongwanit, former supreme commander General Saiyud Kerdphol, (…)
“‘People’s Army’ promises peaceful protest“, The Nation, August 4, 2013
The “People’s Army” was one of many different anti-government groups in recent years that have joined the current anti-government protests. General Saiyud Kerdphol is the founding member of ANFREL and was previously, as chairman of People’s Network for Election in Thailand (P-Net) also vocal against the (later nullified) 2006 snap-elections, that took place under similar circumstances as next Sunday’s.
Back then, P-Net decided not to monitor the 2006 elections saying it would be unlikely to “end conflict in society” and wanted it to be postponed. That statement was made by none other than by then-coordinator Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, who is now currently one of five election commissioners (EC) and the most outspoken opponent against the February 2 election date, just as the whole Election Commission isn’t so sure whether to hold one or not.
In a related development, the Constitutional Court ruled that an election can be delayed, but it was up to the prime minister and the Election Commission to decide, who then (more or less) agreed to hold onto the February 2 election date. And again, Somchai reaffirmed his stance that it is not going to work on Sunday. Again, the previous reluctance of the EC has to be taken into consideration. Because of that, a young woman attempted to present a petition for Somchai’s impeachment, but was rejected and later pompously explained by Somchai that the woman was standing above his head.
As election day is arriving on Sunday with more uncertainty over its unobstructed realization, it becomes clear that those tasked to ensure that these elections take place fairly and unhindered are blatantly against it and openly display their political bias. That is somehow ironic since Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said back in 2006…
He also expressed hope that the new commissioners could rid the country of problems inherited from their predecessors.
“P-Net appeals to Senate“, The Nation, August 12, 2006
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and reports for international news media like Channel NewsAsia. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.