January 31, 2014 00:00
By Jintana Panyaarvudh
Though February 2 is just round the corner, the current atmosphere certainly does not look like the country is heading for national elections.
For starters, not many candidates’ banners are visible along the streets in Bangkok and other cities. Also, some candidates are still strangers, as they hail from small parties.
So far, only one major party – Pheu Thai – appears to be running in the race, as the other main party, that of the Democrats, has boycotted the election. Besides, the candidates themselves believe the election might eventually be nullified because of the ongoing turmoil.
And voters, especially those against the government, are also feeling very lost about how they should cast their vote or even if they should bother showing up at the polling booth. Many have been discussing which way they should go on Sunday – should they cast a “no vote”, stay home or join the rally?
The “no vote” option is a clear indicator that a voter has exercised his or her right by showing up at the polling booth, but is declaring “I vote for nobody”.
Although this option would not affect the election results on the party-list system, it is very significant for the 22 constituencies in the South that have only one candidate each. As per the Constitution, if a constituency has only one candidate, then he or she must win at least 20 per cent of the eligible votes and these votes need to outnumber the “no votes” cast.
If these candidates fail to pass the requirements, new elections will have to be held and the candidate can only be endorsed as an MP after a third re-election.
In addition, if the “no vote” count is higher than a winning candidate’s number of votes in constituencies that have more than one candidate, it will serve as nothing more than a big embarrassment.
“If the number of ‘no votes’ is higher than all the votes contesting parties have won in the party-list system, then people will only gossip that the ‘no-vote party’ is more popular than an actual political party,” Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn jokingly said in a Facebook post yesterday.
The other option most talked about is “no show”, which is the goal of the anti-government protest. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is urging voters to boycott the election and join his rally on Sunday instead.
Some analysts who favour the “no show” option have said abstention is far more significant than choosing “no vote”.
If more than 50 per cent of the 48 million eligible voters abstain, then the winner – who in this case is likely to be the Pheu Thai Party – is bound to lose its legitimacy completely, even though this party insists on claiming victory, some analysts say.
Though a high number of abstentions would mean a low voter turnout, it would have no legal effect to nullify the election, Somchai said.
“If the voter turnout this time is very low [because of abstention] it would only embarrass Thailand in the view of the international community,” he said.
However, the number of abstentions would not provide a clear implication that voters are enthusiastic to show their objection, because these “no shows” could include those who have woken up late and failed to cast their ballot, he said.
Meanwhile, analysts favouring the “no vote” option say the protesters cannot claim a victory by using the number of abstention votes, because their plan is to block people from exercising their right to vote.
A more legitimate victory would be to prove that voters have abstained out of free choice and not because they cannot enter the polling station or have chosen to stay home out of security concerns, these analysts say.
“People can refuse to vote for personal satisfaction, but that would be a waste. This abstention can also be interpreted as ‘ignorant voter’ and your vote could be stolen,” prominent legal expert Meechai Ruchuphan said in an article titled “Should we go to vote?”
Meechai, who is also a member of a Council of State panel, called on opponents of this government to exercise their voting rights and cast a “no vote”, as it would prove exactly how many people are against the government.
“If the number of people who opt for ‘no vote’ is more than the votes cast for actual candidates, then they cannot claim that the majority have voted them in,” he noted.
While the ruling Pheu Thai Party is planning to claim victory by using a majority vote result after Sunday, the anti-government protesters are hoping for a larger “no vote” and “no-show” counts to claim victory.
However, in the end, it’s all just a game of numbers.