Anfrel pulls out of poll monitoring role

Anfrel pulls out of poll monitoring role

The Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) has monitored elections for nearly two decades, but will miss the Aug 7 referendum because the Election Commission held off approval for so long. (File photo by Sarot Meksophawannakul)
The Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) has monitored elections for nearly two decades, but will miss the Aug 7 referendum because the Election Commission held off approval for so long. (File photo by Sarot Meksophawannakul)

An Asia-wide election monitoring group, Anfrel, will refrain from observing the Aug 7 charter referendum because the Election Commission took so long to respond to its request, its chief said Thursday.

A national volunteer poll watcher, the Open Forum for Democracy Foundation (PNet), also complained the "restrictive" environment set by the EC and referendum law are undermining people's interest in the referendum.

"We've asked for approval [to monitor the referendum] since May, but the approval letter from the EC didn't arrive until July 6. We don't have enough time to consolidate resources," Asian Network for Free Elections executive director Ichal Supriadi told the Bangkok Post, adding being the lone accredited observer for the referendum made Anfrel rethink its strategy.

Mr Supriadi said that without a large presence of local monitoring teams, international observer groups like his would need to cover massive areas to get good results on polling day. "That makes it difficult for us to mobilise resources in time," said the Bangkok-based regional poll watcher.

PNet board member Sakool Zuesongdham said recent arrests relating to people tearing down voter lists and other curbs imposed by security forces have confused people and crippled open debate on the charter.

The agency called on the government Thursday to allow "natural debates on both the pros and cons of the draft constitution".

"We have surveyed people aged 18 years and up in the provinces. They have neither seen the draft, nor care about voting," it said. "It would be more useful if the documents summarised for the voters what the results or consequences would be after they vote,'' it added.

Mr Sakool said his agency was able to mobilise only half of its usual force of 4,000 people to observe the vote, and he hoped the volunteers would get some experience before going on to monitor the general election due by 2017.

Despite the EC and the government declining to allow foreign governments to send monitoring teams to polling stations, several embassies in Bangkok said they would do so.

Sandra De Waele, head of the EU Delegation's Political, Press and Information Section, said election observation is about one country inviting another, but this was not the case for the Thai referendum.

While denying the EU had any role in monitoring the referendum, Ms De Waele said "that doesn't mean that you will not see me walking past polling stations in my neighbourhood because as a political counsellor I still have to get a sense of the feeling on the ground".

US ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies told the Bangkok Post he guessed it should be okay for his staff to "check around in the North and Northeast during those days to observe the referendum".


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