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Election turnout and legitimacy

As a democratisation-and-elections expert living in Bangkok and an accredited international observer, I watched with interest the election last Sunday.

There have been suggestions since that the process was illegitimate because of low turnout, but there are a number of explanations for the low turnout unrelated to voter apathy or doubts about the integrity of the process.

First, because the Democrat Party boycotted the process, many voters didn't have a candidate to vote for, and others knew that, without competition, their candidate was sure to win, so both groups had little motivation to go to the polls. Second, the decision by the PDRC to block access to polling stations might have convinced many people that trying to vote would be risky or dangerous. Third, because of the boycott, participation would be perceived as taking a particular side, undermining the secrecy of the vote, and, in areas where significant numbers in the community supported the protesters, potential voters might have worried that defying the blockade or boycott could lead to social pressure or ostracism.

Taken together, these factors easily explain the lower turnout. Ironically, it was probably the actions of those now questioning the legitimacy of the election that led to lower turnout, when, in actuality, the biggest factor affecting the legitimacy of the process was so many people being unfairly denied the opportunity to freely express their political choice.

Tim Meisburger

Asia Foundation director for Elections and Political Processes, Nonthaburi


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