Thais questioned the integrity of election results on Monday, a day after a vote that exposed a split electorate and raised the threat of renewed political turmoil in south-east Asia’s second-largest economy.
Critics of Thailand’s military dictatorship took to social media to voice their doubts over the low official turnout figure, discrepancies between voter registration numbers and actual ballots cast, and the electoral commission’s delay in reporting official results.
Partial results suggested a stronger than expected outcome for the pro-junta Palang Pracharat party (PPRP) and a surprisingly weak showing for opposition parties opposed to the junta, led by Pheu Thai.
Thailand’s Electoral Commission said on Monday that Pheu Thai, backed by Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled billionaire and former prime minister, was on track to win 137 seats in the 500-seat House of Representatives. The pro-junta PPRP was in second place with 97 seats.
Pheu Thai said it aimed to form Thailand’s next government, but that will prove difficult. The military is able to draw on 250 handpicked senators’ votes to support the next government under a new constitution designed to help the junta to retain power.
In an interview on Monday, Mr Thaksin said the election should have been won easily by the opposition, but had been "rigged" by the authorities and was "not free and fair".
Some investors have withdrawn their money from Thailand in recent weeks in anticipation that the election would reopen Thailand's festering political divides and produce an unwieldy coalition that would struggle to hold on to power.
Harrison Cheng, an analyst with the consultancy Control Risks, wrote on Monday that Prayuth Chan-ocha’s return as prime minister was “highly likely”, but that “political gridlock would likely emerge as the PPRP would struggle to form a parliamentary majority in the lower house”. Official results are due in early May, and the process of agreeing a coalition will probably take several more weeks or months.
Normally the electoral commission would release results on the same day as the election but on Sunday it delayed the release until the next day.
“This is Thailand; it is not a backwater country,” said Sunai Phasuk, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “By midnight we should have had an announcement by the electoral commission.”
The commission admitted that its IT system had suffered “attacks” and crashed twice, and that human error had affected results in some constituencies.
Official turnout was just under 66 per cent, lower than expected for an election that many Thais were eagerly anticipating after five years of military dictatorship. Nearly 2m votes were classified as “bad ballots”, and about 1,500 votes of Thais living in New Zealand were disqualified after arriving in Thailand after polls closed.
Disgruntled Thais shared posts alleging flaws in the poll under hashtags including “Election Commission Screw-up”, “ECBusted”, and “ElectionFraud”. Some social media posts said minors or dead people had appeared on voter lists, and that ballots cast exceeded the number of eligible voters in some constituencies.
The hashtag #ECHasNoCalculator also became popular after an electoral commission official, when asked by reporters on Sunday evening what the final result would be, replied: “I don’t have a calculator on me now.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019