Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives at the government house in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. The junta-appointed Election Commission announced the results of 350 constituency races but said full vote counts, which are needed to allocate 150 other seats in the House of Representatives, won't be available until Friday after apparent counting problems. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Observers: 'Flawed' initial Thai vote count hurt perceptions

March 26, 2019 - 4:00 am

BANGKOK (AP) — An international election observation group criticized the vote-counting in Thailand's first election since a 2014 military coup, saying in its report Tuesday the "tabulation and consolidation of ballots were deeply flawed."

The Asian Network for Free Elections said those issues led to the announcement of some preliminary results that were "wildly inaccurate," which damaged the "perceived integrity of the general election." The group, also known by its acronym Anfrel, said at a news conference, however, that there was no reason to believe the reporting problems affected the overall results.

Thailand's Election Commission has already defended the counting of votes in Sunday's election, blaming the failure of media to keep up with the raw data, and said full preliminary results will be released Friday.

A military-backed party and the party whose government was ousted in the 2014 coup both claim they should form the next government. The preliminary results show the anti-junta Pheu Thai Party won the most seats, while the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party appeared to have gotten the most votes.

The confusing release of results was the main problem Anfrel noted on Election Day itself, becoming a concern after the count had been recorded at local polling stations and was then sent along to the Election Commission.

"Our understanding is it was technical difficulties or they overestimated the difficulty of the task," said Amaël Vier, Anfrel's program officer for capacity building and international elections. "We'd just like to know more, what was the procedure, what was the data? We have no reason to believe it affects the overall outcome, we just, we need more at this time."

Anfrel's 12-page report was sharply critical of the Election Commission's performance, especially for its lack of transparency over the counting process but also for its alleged failure to provide sufficient and accurate information about the election to voters.

If voters trusted the system," there may not be a question about the delay of the counting event," said Anfrel Secretary-General Rohana Nishanta Hettiarachchie.

Anfrel's report made no specific mention of serious allegations that had started circulating on social media about the number of ballots exceeding voters in some areas, and turnouts said to be twice the number of registered voters.

"Polling stations were found to be peaceful, orderly, and generally well-managed," it said.

Thailand's main poll-watching organizations have not yet publicly addressed most of the allegations.

Anfrel's most serious criticism concerned the legal framework under which the election took place.

Many human rights and pro-democracy groups said before the election that Thailand's constitution and election rules were unfairly set up to limit the power of elected politicians and ensure the continued dominance of the military and other traditionalist institutions.

Anfrel said the rules meant Thailand would have "a form of guided democracy rather than a fully-fledged democracy," though it acknowledged the election was a step toward "genuine popular representation in governmental affairs."

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