BANGKOK – On Sunday’s elections in Thailand, a journalist from Thairath TV was diligently talking ‘down the barrel’, giving an update on the election from a polling station in Bangkok, set up for members of the military.
But as the camera panned across the voting going on behind him, it seemed to show a soldier in a beret either checking a young soldier’s ballot or handing it back to him, while another buzz-cut recruit stepped up, apparently to have his ballot checked too.
It’s amazing what can happen over a reporter’s shoulder as they deliver their piece to camera, See below.
It is one of the many allegations of irregularities that has emerged from Thailand’s election — seen broadly as a choice between pro-democracy parties or pro-military parties.
With no single party anywhere near getting an outright majority, it all comes down to who ‘wins’ and leads a coalition government.
But the post-poll days have been chaotic and even the notion of what it means to win the election is up for grabs.
The main pro-junta party called Palang Pracharat is claiming the lead because it has the most votes (7.9 million votes, giving it an estimated 97 seats) but the biggest pro-democracy party, Pheu Thai, says they are the winner because it is set to secure more seats (137 seats, from 7.4 million votes).
My Country for a Calculator
There have been reports that some provinces saw many more votes than registered voters — hundreds of thousands of ‘ghost’ votes, easily enough to swing the election.
The Election Commission’s explanation for these odd results has not inspired confidence.
One EC secretary-general said officials entered incorrect numbers in the system, while a deputy said they were hacked.
“There were three attacks that caused the system to crash twice,” said Nat Laosisawakul, without elaborating on this rather alarming revelation.
In a small but telling screw-up, it seems officials from the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok simply didn’t show up to collect about 1,500 overseas votes from Thais in New Zealand.
By the time they eventually showed — at 7:30pm on election day, 23 hours after the ballots landed, according to Thai Airways — they missed the cut off and the votes look set to be disqualified.
The worst gaffe came from the Election Commission president Ittiporn Boonpracong, who told media he couldn’t work out the party list percentages because he didn’t have a calculator.
@nuling, the head of satire Krien Party, has offered @ECT_Thailand some calculators after the election body told media they ‘don’t have a calculator’ before stopping short live broadcasting the #ThaiElection2019 vote counting at 93% last night. pic.twitter.com/CoCfjkJl7E
— Juarawee K. (Lina) (@Juarawee) March 25, 2019
The attempt at humour was met with the gentle thwack of face-palms across the nation. Cue the calculator memes.
It’s no huge surprise this Election Commission is struggling — its members were only installed six months ago by the junta, who rejected the first list of bureaucrats put forward.
Since the election, the blowback has been strong.
A petition to have the entire Election Commission sacked has gathered more than 700,000 signatures at the time of writing.
But we’ll know the winner soon, right?
Yes, by the end of the week — sort of.
After twice delaying the provisional results for the lower house and then only releasing the raw data, the Election Commission now says it will release results on Friday.
But these will only be the 350 ‘constituent seats’.
A new election system introduced by the junta involves another 150 seats that are given out depending on what percentage of the overall vote each party gets, minus how many seats they’ve already won.
(Let’s set aside for the moment for now the junta-picked, king-approved Senate, which is expected to be beholden to the military, giving the junta an automatic 250 seats and a huge advantage in choosing the Prime Minister.)
The count has finished, but the EC is said it will only release results for 94 per cent of the vote on Friday, with the full results on 9 May.
Hang on, I hear you ask, why would the EC withhold the final 6 per cent of the election result, keeping an already-dubious nation on edge for weeks?
Well, one reason might be to avoid problems in the lead up to the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn on 4-6 May.
But it also opens the EC up to the suspicion that they will use that time to cook the books.
So to bring it back to the immediate future, what we’re waiting for this week is the “unofficial result” based on 94 per cent of the count, that will indicate how many constituent seats each party has won.
From there, people who are good at math can calculate how many of the 150 ‘party list’ seats will go to each party.
The calculation is complicated and the country’s future depends on it, but in one more bizarre twist, the EC told journalists it will be up to the media to work out the party lists results on Friday.
Fair to assume it will by BYO calculator.
By Liam Cochrane
ABC News Australia