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Thailand’s Election Date Set For Late March, Fiver Years After The Coup

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures the Thai way shortly after accepting the ASEAN Summit and Related Summits' hosting and chairmanship for next year in Thailand from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Singapore, Nov. 15, 2018. VOA

Nearly five years after the military stormed to power in yet another coup, Thailand has finally announced an official election date scheduled for late March.

It comes with mounting defiance to the army’s tight control over freedom of expression, as activists and artists increasingly risk the threat of jail to publicly demand a ballot.

Thai Election Commission Chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong told a press conference Wednesday the date had been set for March 24.

“That is the date, which is flexible enough and should be beneficial to everyone concerned. That is the main reason why we decided to choose that date,” he said.

February date

Public frustration flared when it recently was announced the long promised vote would be delayed for a sixth time because of concerns the Feb. 24 scheduled date could conflict with King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s coronation in May.

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Activists and university students gather to demand the first election in Thailand, since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, in Bangkok, Jan. 8, 2019. VOA

That excuse had perplexed many, given that pushing the date back would bring it into even closer conflict with the coronation.

A group of arch royalists staged a demonstration directly outside the Election Commission to protest the pre-coronation ballot date immediately after it was announced Wednesday.

Wide field of parties

A particularly wide field of smaller parties now is set to contest the election in a political environment that has opened somewhat since the junta relaxed wide-ranging bans on political activities in December.

It will still be a democratic election, however, that comes with many autocratic caveats enshrined in the constitution Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha imposed after he seized power from Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government in 2014.

Major concerns include the military being able to virtually hand pick the entire 250-person Senate. Future governments also will be locked into a legally binding 20-year junta-devised development plan covering everything from national security to social equality.

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Messages from activists demanding quick elections to end military rule is pictured at a university in Bangkok, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Military retains control

Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer in Thailand’s Naresuan University, said the military also would retain significant control over its budgets after the election through a constitution that also allowed for an unelected prime minister.

“So, there is a democracy, there are elections, but when people say, ‘Oh, Thailand’s going back to democracy,’ it’s not the same quality of democracy that used to exist,” he said.

A very powerful military that could appoint people to positions in the army previously overseen by the elected prime minister would remain behind the scenes, Chambers emphasized.

In October, incoming Royal Thai Army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong refused to rule out yet another coup after the election.

Thailand has had 19 attempted coups and 12 successful ones since 1932.

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A Buddhist monk and a patient sweep the yard at Wat Thamkrabok monastery in Saraburi province, Thailand, Feb. 3, 2017.

Rival parties

In addition to the Pheu Thai party aligned with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and longtime rivals the Democrats, the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party will compete with several smaller parties.

One that has attracted considerable interest is the progressive and diverse team that has united behind 40-year-old billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Future Forward.

Also Read: Calm Settles Over Congo After Election Result

On Tuesday, Thanathorn told VOA the election was just a small first step in what would be a protracted struggle to wrestle power from those who had controlled the wealth and power of the country for decades.

“So, if you want to correct what’s wrong over the past decade, there’s only one way you can solve that. You tackle the root cause of the problems. That means you have to deal with these structures, with this group of people. I haven’t seen any politicians trying to do this before,” he said.

“Since 1932, since the democratic revolution happened in Thailand — it’s been 86 years — and we’ve still been only this far. I believe democratization in this country will not be completed in the next year or two,” Thanathorn said. (VOA)

Next Story

WhatsApp Favourite Tool for Right-wing to Influence Voters, Find Researchers

The survey stated that 96 per cent of the sample population received fake news via WhatsApp

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FILE - The WhatsApp app logo is seen on a smartphone in this picture illustration. VOA

In a significant find, researchers have discovered that right-wing users are more effective in using Facebook-owned WhatsApp to spread news, disinformation and opinions during elections.

After performing the first large-scale analysis of partisan WhatsApp groups in the context of Brazil’s 2018 election, the researchers from Northwestern University found that right-wing groups in Brazil were much more numerous and shared substantially more multimedia content and YouTube videos than left-wing groups.

With more than 120 million users, Brazil is the second-largest WhatsApp market in the world after India which has 400 million users of the Facebook-owned platform.

“Our ultimate goal is to understand how information and misinformation spreads, so we can find technological interventions,” said Larry Birnbaum, the study’s senior author.

“We want to find ways to help people better evaluate the information they receive. Media literacy has not caught up with rapid changes in technology,” Birnbaum added.

From September 1 to November 1, 2018, Birnbaum and Victor Bursztyn followed 232 partisan groups.

During that time, they collected 2.8 million messages from more than 45,000 users (This is 3.5 times as many messages and 2.4 times as many users than the largest competing dataset to date).

The team discovered multiple differences between right- and left-wing groups.

In the studied sample, right-wing groups shared 5.5 times as many messages as left-wing users.

Of the messages shared by right-wing users, 46.5 per cent were multimedia messages, such as photos, audio and video files. Just 30 per cent of left-wing messages included multimedia.

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FILE – Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to logos of social media apps Signal, Whatsapp and Telegram projected on a screen in this picture illustration. VOA

“It’s hard to say whether multimedia is more effective in influencing opinions, but right-wingers are more savvy in using them,” said Birnbaum. “Images are always more compelling than text.”

They also found that the most-shared news by WhatsApp groups during the 2018 presidential election campaign came from websites that spread disinformation, as identified by several fact-checking agencies.

“Data suggests that both sides consume this content, but it’s a more prevalent problem on the right,” Birnbaum said.

The team will present their findings at the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining in Vancouver, Canana, on Friday.

During the general elections in India this year, WhatsApp was blamed for influencing voters.

WhatsApp turned out to be the biggest social media platform for more than 87,000 groups to target millions with political messaging, according to social media experts.

Also Read: Tech Giant Apple Offers More Options for Safe, Reliable Repairs

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a commentary piece, accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of influencing voters via social media platforms in Lok Sabha elections and WhatsApp being their favourite medium simply because of its massive reach.

Despite tall claims made by Facebook that it is removing 10 lakh fake accounts a day in India, a recent survey by online start-up Social Media Matters and New Delhi-based Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics revealed that one in two Indians receive fake news via Facebook and WhatsApp.

The survey stated that 96 per cent of the sample population received fake news via WhatsApp. (IANS)