Thailand After the Elections

Thailand held its election, but the results are, well, hard to explain. But H. Numan gives it a go for Gates of Vienna readers.

Thailand after the elections

by H. Numan

Last Sunday Thailand went to vote, for the first time in four years. The generals staged a coup in 2014 ‘to combat corruption and institute more transparency.’ I reported about the coming elections, and you probably want to know the outcome. Well, I don’t know. Nobody knows. Rest assured, Prayuth won, and will almost certainly head a new government. Why don’t we know the outcome after a full week?

That’s because the official outcome cannot be published until after the king’s coronation on 5-7 May. Actually, the elections should have been held on the 24th of February, but had to be postponed due to the king’s wish to be crowned on 4-6 May. That date was already past the deadline set for it in the new constitution, but barely. The 24th constitution of Thailand stipulated that elections must be held within 150 days after they are announced. It also gives a timeframe when elections must be called for. The government literally waited until the last possible second to comply with the law. And then some more.

What the law doesn’t specify is when the final results must be announced. ‘When hell freezes over’ seems the correct answer. One would get the strange impression that the current military government is quite happy where they are and don’t want to give up their comfy seats.

There were no foreign observers present. Many organizations and governments (the EU for example) wanted to send observers, but nobody replied to their requests. During the elections irregularities were reported. Nothing new in Thailand; I know of no election without any irregularities since the beginning of democracy here.

The election committee, which is in charge of the elections, is now in deep, deep trouble. Most parties weren’t particularly happy that the election committee — read: the government — postponed the election until the last moment possible under the constitution. Much less so when those postponed elections were postponed again. Do note that the generals announced immediately after the coup they would call for elections as soon as possible. That’s four years ago. The postponements were postponed many times already.

I reported about a Thai princess who wanted to run for prime minister and was told not to do that by her brother, the king, the same day. The party, The Future Forward Party, had to withdraw from the elections. Right after the elections the chairman was accused of sedition for something he did four years ago.

This party is closely allied with the Pheu Thai party of the ex-prime minister and now fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra. A deliciously juicy incident happened in Hong Kong during the elections: princess Ubolrattana, the one who was explicitly forbidden to run for prime minister, attended the wedding of the Thaksin’s daughter in Hong Kong. There is no law forbidding her to do that, and all of Thailand smiles. Why? Because Thailand is the land of smiles, of course. We always smile. Why else would we smile?

The sedition charge against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is rather dated. He committed his offense in 2015, on the first anniversary of the coup. He visited a police station where he transported fugitives from the police to safety. That’s the charge. He himself says that he did visit the police station, where a demonstrator was released by the police. He merely offered him a ride home. Who’s right? I don’t know. What I do know is that the chief prosecutor has been replaced three times already.

Now over to the election committee. Just about everyone — not wearing army green or government khaki — has had enough of them. However… that’s not easy to achieve. They, and they alone, have the authority to declare the elections valid or invalid. Nobody else has.

Students from nine universities have begun gathering signatures to have the committee member indicted for neglect and incompetence. So far over a million people signed the petition, and that number is growing. Problem is that when they succeed, the committee has to resign or appear in court — and the results of the elections will not be official. And that would mean that the Junta happily remains where it is for the foreseeable future.

At this moment even the unofficial results are not certain. The election committee is under severe pressure to do something. They announced today that the election results in six districts aren’t valid; the voters will have to vote again. In two other districts votes must be recounted due to irregularities.

If you happen to be a Thai living in New Zealand, your vote doesn’t count. Because the New Zealand votes arrived too late to be admitted. Thais overseas could vote earlier, but that didn’t work for those in New Zealand, apparently. Thais in New Zealand weren’t very happy to hear that, and hang wreaths on the gate of the embassy.

A few notes to end this article: a Thai coronation is a very important ceremony. Everything is auspicious. Court astrologers have calculated on which days the ceremony must take place and on which time exactly. Thais are notoriously late for everything, even their own funeral. Except when this is auspicious. If a Thai invites you to his wedding that takes place at 05:23 AM, it takes place at 05:23 AM exactly. Not a second before or after. The Dutch and the Germans are sticklers for being on time, but we can take lessons from them! It’s a coincidence the coronation takes place at the moment the election results should have been published. But a very convenient coincidence nevertheless.

When prime minister general Prayuth Chan-o-Cha announced he plans to run for premier, I knew already he plans not to run for but to be the new prime minister. Losing face is something very important in any Asian country, especially Thailand. Or more correctly: not losing face. Theoretically he didn’t have to run. The generals said, when they staged their coup, that they were above the parties. Their goal was to reform society for the better without regards to any party.

Had he decided not to run for prime minister, nobody would have said anything, and he might have gained a lot of prestige for being that altruistic. But since he decided to run for another term, he cannot afford to lose the elections. That would mean enormous loss of face.

So the election went as I thought it would: the party of Prayuth won the election, but not decisively so, with the Pheu Thai party as a close second. They are still the largest party, but very likely will not form or be part of the new government.

— H. Numan

6 thoughts on “Thailand After the Elections

  1. Would any of this be apparent to visitors to Thailand? A beautiful country, and I would like to go back. I am pleased to hear about Thai’s punctuality – I respect them even more.

    • No. This is purely political – and internal for the moment. Only if you stay in Thailand for a longer time, you would know about this. It doesn’t affect anyone’s daily life. For the moment.

      With regard to punctuality, when a Thai says ‘I’ll come over at 10.00 hrs, it means somewhere in the future after 10.00. Not necessarily on that particular day.

      A popular expat joke explains ‘mai ben rai’ (= never mind): It has the same meaning as mañana in Spanish, but with far less urgency.

        • If you ask black people around here, they will admit with a smile that they run on CPT -“Colored People’s Time”. A bit of leftover cultural passive aggressiveness.

          I’m Irish all the way through and am congenitally late. But the sun is always 8 minutes behind itself, so I’m in good company.

    • With respect PGiddy, there are some lovely things about Thailand, but generally the country is an enormous mess!

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