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Military-Backed Party in Lead in Thailand’s Election

In second place was the Pheu Thai party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with 7.1 million votes

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thailand election
Uttama Savanayana, Palang Pracharat Party leader, holds a news conference during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. VOA

Thais waited Monday for the results of an election called a return to democratic rule, but which has been widely criticized as an exercise designed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to entrench his military’s stranglehold on power.

Preliminary official results released late Sunday showed that with 93 percent of ballots counted the military-backed Phalang Pracharat party was in the lead with about 7.6 million votes, short of what would be needed for a majority in parliament.

In second place was the Pheu Thai party of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra with 7.1 million votes.

The campaign was marred by allegations of vote buying, however, complaints were few on polling day with election observers from Australia, Canada, the United States and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations on hand.

Security was tight and opinions were mixed as about 52 million Thais voted. But the long shadow of the military is still having an impact, most of those willing to express an opinion declined to be identified.

Some were positive about the outcomes, particularly among the youth vote. A hotel receptionist said before voting, “I have my choice in my mind, it’s good for me, I like it.”

Another said she had faith in a political system guided by the military and Thailand’s 20th constitution, written after 13 coups since 1932, “We are very confident with the election today, it is going to be democratic and fair to the society.”

Others remained angry about the coup in 2014, which ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and installed General Prayut as head of a junta that curtailed civil liberties and banned political opposition.

“The coup is a really terrible thing that happened to our country. You can not say what you want or what you think, you can not protest because they will take you to the jail,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by others who said it was wrong that Prayut and the military could dominate the political system and exert their influence to the point where they are widely expected to remain in control after this election.

“To answer whether to bring democracy back to Thailand is good or not; I won’t say it’s good,” one middle-aged businessman said. “Everywhere in the world, in every country – even in America – you see how democracy works. Does it work for the country or the privileged few?”

thailand elections
Supporters of Pheu Thai Party react after unofficial results, during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. VOA

Paul Chen, 80, was an exception. He spoke openly and said the elections were a step in the right direction and could provide a much needed boost for the economy, but noted the legal restrictions imposed by the junta.

“After today I think everything will be getting better,” he said. “They have so many good political parties, about two or three, but I can not mention their name, it may be against the law.”

Thais have cast votes for the 500-seat House of Representatives, while 250 members in the Senate will be appointed by the armed forces. A joint session of both houses will elect the next prime minister.

A key figure will be the overall popular vote. Pheu Thai, the party of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin – who was also ousted by a coup in 2006 – are expected to poll well in the rural north.

Future Forward, led by the young entrepreneur Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, has been effective in attracting the youth vote with promises to end military conscription, and inclusive polices have endeared him to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

The youth vote and the LGBT community number around seven million each. Combined, they share 25 percent of the total vote. But seat distribution and absolute military control of the Senate leaves General Prayut’s Phalang Pracharat as the only likely clear winner.

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“In Thailand today after five years of dictatorship, we see these rising expectations among voters. Social mobilization, political participation, people want change,” said Paul Chambers, lecturer and special advisor on international affairs at Naresuan University, Phitsanulok.

“You know the last time there was a long period like this of dictatorship between elections, my gosh its maybe 30 years ago. So people really want change. Now the junta leaders are not stupid, they’re certainly trying to corral and control.”

During a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Chambers said, “… you know you can’t stay in power militarily forever, you have to change your legitimacy, somehow. And the best way to do that in the world today is to have a so-called democracy.” Election results are not expected to be ratified until late May. (VOA)

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Owner of Floating Home in Andaman Sea Receives Death Penalty by Thailand Authorities

It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa

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floating home
This photo provided by Royal Thai Navy, shows a floating home lived in by an American man and his Thai partner in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket island, Thailand, April 13, 2019. VOA

Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.

Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.

It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.

Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee, also known as Nadia Summergirl, did nothing wrong.

“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”

floating home
This is a photo of the floating home lived in by an American man and his Thai partner in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket island, Thailand, April 13, 2019, from the Royal Thai Navy. VOA

Seasteading pioneers in hiding

The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just more than 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid Saturday.

The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.

“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.

Revival of seasteading

Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference, such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin, have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.

floating home
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities. VOA

Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.

“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.

Pilot project

The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.

The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”

floating home
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities. VOA

In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.

“I was volunteering for the project, promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.

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“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”

Asked his next step, he was more optimistic. “I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said. (VOA)