Nearly 87 percent of 2.6 million eligible Thais cast early ballots on Sunday, the election commission chief said Monday, pointing to likely enthusiasm among voters after eight years without a national vote.
About 51.4 million people are eligible to vote in Thailand’s general election, which is set for next Sunday, March 24. It will be the first parliamentary polls since the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra was toppled in May 2014 through a coup led by army Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha. He has since served as prime minister and is seeking to be elected to the top post.
“I am satisfied with the turnout,” Election Commission chairman Ittiporn Boonprakong said. “There were 2.6 million people signed up for advance voting. We found 86.98 percent exercised that right and, in some [areas], more than 90 percent of those registered turned out to vote.”
In the previous national election in 2011, about 75 percent of 46.9 million nationwide came out to vote, according to the commission.
Thais said they were pleased to again have a voice in democracy.
“I feel good to have voted today ... I am pleased and enthusiastic about this election,” Warisara Damrilertworakul, a Bangkok-based businesswoman from Pitsanulok province, told BenarNews. “I hope this election makes the country better. We have faced hardships over the past years.”
The vote comes amid criticism that the 2016 constitution was tailored to give an advantage to pro-junta parties and Prayuth by empowering 250 senators handpicked by him to help the lower house choose the next prime minister. Those senators include military leaders.
To control the government, a party must win at least 376 seats – one more than half of the 500 seats in parliament and 250 seats in the senate combined.
On Sunday, hundreds of military personnel cast ballots. Defense ministry officials affirmed that they were free to vote for any party or candidate.
In Pattani, one of the insurgent-stricken provinces in the Thai Deep South, an army leader said he led soldiers to vote.
“About 1,900 soldiers from the 15th Infantry Division signed up for advance voting and came out to vote today. We are showing that soldiers are also good citizens,” Col. Surathep Nookaew told BenarNews.
“We invited election commission officials to educate us because the voting process this election has changed. We want to vote correctly without invalidating our rights.”
Critics, meanwhile, claimed that the soldiers trucked to polling places were compelled to vote for pro-junta parties.
On Monday the junta’s legal officer filed a formal complaint requesting that police investigate the administrator of a U.S.-based Facebook page, CSI LA, for allegedly uploading a false statement. The administrator, who was not named, posted what he said was a photo of troops listening to their leader as he told them to vote for the junta.
“The armed forces does not have a policy to compel soldiers to vote for certain party candidates, it is their personal freedom,” legal adviser Col. Burin Thongprapai said.
The CSI LA administrator responded that he had heard complaints from military personnel.
“I have evidence from military insiders. I just act as the voice of the voiceless,” the administrator said.
Last year, the administrator posted photos of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon wearing luxury watches, leading Prawit to claim that the watches had been borrowed and were returned, Thai media reported at the time.
Ittiporn told reporters there were some irregularities during the first day of voting.
A stack of ballots was stolen and marked for a certain party in Samut Songkram, on the outskirts of Bangkok, he said.
“Police spotted the ballot stack and destroyed it. We replaced the stolen ones with new ballots and filed a complaint with police,” Ittiporn said without elaborating.
In addition, police were notified of someone using another’s identification card to cast a ballot in Uthai Thani province, he added.
Ittiporn also admitted that officials handed the wrong ballots to voters in a certain constituency without naming where.
“We cannot do anything to fix this issue after the ballots were collected and packed for further counting,” Ittiporn said. “But we can inform the police.”