Activist Groups Launch Network to Monitor Elections

BANGKOK — Pro-democracy activists from more than a dozen organizations formed a network Tuesday to monitor and ensure general elections slated for February are free and fair.

Called Free, Fair and Fruitful Election, or FFFE, the network – formed during a meeting at Thammasat University in Bangkok – comprises anti-junta groups such as Democracy Restoration Group, iLaw, Start Up People and Thai Academic Network for Civil Rights.

“We want [elections] to be a chance to return the country to normalcy,” Anusorn Unno, a sociologist at the university and key members of the network, said during a press conference on campus. He said there’s clear evidence that the government is attempting to prevent polls from being free and fair, citing the regime’s and pro-junta political parties’ attempts to garner public support during the continued ban on political activities – which critics consider campaigning.

“The imposition of laws banning people from expressing themselves freely continues while pro-junta groups continue full-steam to meet people… This is tantamount to electoral cheating,” said Narongsak Niamsorn, a representative form law reform advocacy group iLaw.

Earlier Tuesday, Jakarta-based ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, or APHR, issued a statement calling for restrictions on political parties to be lifted.

Tanawat Wongchai, a Chulalongkorn University student and representative of the Student Union of Thailand – which is a member of the FFFE – expressed concern about the 250 senators to be appointed by junta-leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, and how this would impact the fairness of elections. He called it “the senate party” as opposed to the 500 MPs to be elected.

“The senate party will be the largest in parliament. They will only need another 126 MP seats to form a government… It is unfair and takes advantage of other political parties,” Tanawat said.

Anusorn said the network had yet to establish what it would take before it regards the elections as free and fair, adding that they will outline concrete criteria soon.

Anusorn was noncommittal when asked if having a senate appointed entirely by the junta leader would make elections unfair. He said however that there’s a need for people to become more involved in the electoral process.

“It’s a game, and if society has no role in directing it, it will get worse,” Anusorn said.

The network said it would invite at least seven political parties for a Q&A session and hope to have the parties commit to some policies, Anusorn said.

Other concerns the network expressed included Prayuth retaining absolute power until a new cabinet assumes office.

In a related development, APHR – the group of ASEAN parliamentarians – on Tuesday called for the military junta to lift restrictions on political parties so campaigning can take place without restrictions.

“The past four years of military rule have been a human rights disaster for Thailand. Authorities have muzzled free speech and cowed civil society as the junta has wielded power with complete impunity. A return to democracy is urgently needed to end this crisis,” Indonesian MP and APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma said in a statement.

Kusuma said repealing repressive laws and allowing political parties to campaign and voice opinions without restrictions is needed to ensure a free electoral process.

“It will be impossible to hold a genuinely free and fair vote in Thailand under the current conditions. How can Thai people make an informed choice about the future if they are not allowed to hear what political parties have to say?” APHR board member and Philippine congressman Teddy Baguilat said. “Regional and international governments should push the Thai military junta to remove all restrictions on political parties well in advance of polling days.”