Candidates lodge complaints over Thai election

Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich speaks at the party headquarters in Bangkok on 24 March, 2019 after polls closed in Thailand's general election. (Chalinee Thirasupa / AFP Photo)

Several anti-military candidates in Thailand lodged fresh complaints with the Election Commission Friday over bungled tallies and alleged vote-buying following a controversial ballot that has left politics in the junta-ruled kingdom in limbo.

A military-backed party and its main rival led by an exiled billionaire have both claimed the right to lead the government in the wake of Sunday's polls, with official final tallies delayed for weeks. 

Candidates from at least two parties issued complaints with the commission on Friday over alleged irregularities they claim could skew final vote counts.

A member of the anti-junta Future Forward party accused the pro-military Phalang Pracharath of currying favour among local officials by gifting them cash and gifts.

"It's against the law, it can be seen as vote-buying," said Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich. 

Another Future Forward candidate reported voter intimidation inside a Bangkok polling station.  

"There was a military officer standing inside the polling station to see whether military officials have voted for the party he wanted," candidate Chris Potranan said in a complaint filed Friday.

A member of the anti-junta Pheu Thai party also lodged objections over allegedly dodgy counts in his Bangkok constituency.  

"Our observers at polling stations reported inaccuracies in tallies as counting was conducted in a dark area," Pheu Thai candidate Trirat Sirichantharopas said. 

The Election Commission has received more than 180 complaints so far. 

'Failed to perform duty' 

On Thursday the commission unexpectedly released the latest popular vote tallies, before quickly taking them down and re-posting revised numbers.

The tally showed more than 2.1 million invalidated votes, but election officials did not respond to questions about the ballots.

The regional election monitor, Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said the haphazard release of the results "reflects poorly" on the commission. 

"Many voters may never see this election as a legitimate expression of the people's will," said ANFREL's programme officer Amael Vier.

A campaign calling for the commission to be dissolved gathered steam Friday, with 20,000 supporters needed to officially submit a petition requesting the body be impeached.   

"The Election Commission has failed to perform its duty," said the student activist behind the movement, Tanawat Wongchai. 

Some 1,000 people had backed the petition as of Friday afternoon, he said.  

The junta-backed Phalang Pracharath party, whose prime ministerial candidate is 2014 coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, clinched the majority of popular votes in Sunday's polls. 

In second place was its main rival Pheu Thai, the party linked to self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. His sister, former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted in the 2014 putsch and also lives in exile. 

With parliamentary seats yet to be confirmed, both parties have claimed the right to govern.

Pheu Thai and Future Forward formed a coalition with five other parties this week claiming to hold more than half of all seats in the lower house of parliament and the right to form a government. 

But observers say the seven-party bloc will not likely have enough overall seats in the upper and lower houses to stunt a junta-backed alliance with the balance of power stacked in the military's favour.

The 250 seats in the upper house are all military-appointed, which means anti-junta parties need an avalanche of votes to secure enough seats overall to elect a prime minister. 

The only thing that could tip the balance for the anti-junta coalition is if they are joined by the veteran Democrat Party, which so far has 33 seats, but which has not pledged allegiance to any camp. 

"It would be very difficult... (Democrats) have usually leaned towards the military," said political scientist Titipol Phakdeewanich. - AFP