Pall of doubt settles over Election Commission

opinion November 21, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

Dubious delay in redrawing constituency boundaries invites gerrymandering and fears of pro-junta manipulation 

The unconvincing excuse offered by Election Commission (EC) chief Ittiporn Boonpracong for the delay in announcing new constituency boundaries heightens doubt over the EC’s commitment to a free and fair election.

The boundary redrawing was completed almost two weeks ago and the results should have been published in the Royal Gazette by November 10, but Ittiporn said his appointment for eye surgery threw the schedule off course.

Though he insisted that the EC had always followed the law and never favoured the powers-that-be, observers and politicians said the delay was engineered to favour pro-junta parties.

The EC’s aim, they say, is to divide up existing constituencies dominated by established political parties and politicians in such a way that newly formed pro-junta parties benefit.

The delay likely hands the pro-junta parties bargaining chips they can now use to force former MPs of other parties to join them.

Several heavyweight politicians have confirmed that their parties’ former MPs had already been asked to jump ship and join the pro-junta parties, otherwise the constituencies which they won at the last election could be divided.

After strong criticism at the delay and a junta order to extend the deadline, the agency declared on Monday that the new constituency boundaries would be finalised by the end of this month.

Rather than citing his health problem, Ittiporn needs to clear growing doubt over why the redrawing process was suddenly delayed after the EC had reportedly already completed the job and was set to publicly announce the result.

Also strange is that his agency responded to the criticism by saying the junta extension order cited the need for public participation in the process. The question is, why did the EC fail to ensure that participation in the first place.

The agency will now accept complaints and opinions from citizens until Sunday. The new deadline is November 30, after which the results of the process will be published in the Royal Gazette, according to EC deputy secretary-general Nat Laosisavakul.

“The EC does not have to consider whether everyone is satisfied. After all, there are winners and losers. The agency only has to respect the law. And we won’t risk the EC’s credibility or go against the law just to entertain some particular people,” Nat said.

Unfortunately, the agency’s credibility has already been placed at risk by this matter, and mere words will not remedy that fact. Instead the EC needs to inject more transparency into the constituency redrawing. People participation must be conducted openly and under the scrutiny of politicians and independent observers.

An independent EC has a core duty to prove that the new constituencies are carved out fairly, and not to favour powers-that-be who have already tilted the political game in their favour by writing the rules for the past four years.

As a former career diplomat, Ittiporn should realise the eyes of the world will be on Thailand when we go to the polls. That scrutiny will be heightened by the fact that Thailand will take chairmanship of Asean before the election. A relatively free and fair poll would help legitimise the incoming government, strengthening its hand as leader of the 10-member regional grouping and in the wider global arena.

An election should be in the interest of the nation, not for the narrow benefit of an elite group desperate to perpetuate their rule. Thailand has suffered through a “lost decade” of political turmoil. The question now is whether our latest national vote can break the vicious circle that has us spiralling between coup, election and coup. The actions of the Election Commission may influence the answer.