Foreign poll observers 'not needed'

Foreign poll observers 'not needed'

Responding to reports that some international organisations had sought permission from the Election Commission to observe next year's polls, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said he does not believe next year's general election should be supervised by international entities.

Mr Don said the requests were normal, but the presence of foreign observers would suggest that Thailand had electoral problems.

"Thailand has organised many elections and referendums in the past without having the need to seek help from a foreign party," he said.

The local people themselves would be the best election observers, and their participation would benefit the country, said Mr Don.

He also said that foreign diplomats already based here in Thailand are already paying close attention to the upcoming general election.

The military government has tentatively scheduled Feb 24 next year as the date for the long-awaited national election that will bring back a democratically elected MPs.

It is as certain as any political decision can be that the government will not invite any foreign election monitors.

"To have others observing means the country is having a problem," Mr Don said to reporters on Tuesday.

In the past, no government has invited foreign election monitors. On the other hand, however, no government has blocked foreign groups or individuals from watching the election campaigns, rallies and voting-day processes at the polls.

There was plenty of talkback about the issue, however.

Pollwatch and Anfrel are election monitoring groups with active branches inside Thailand. Both were repeatedly denied official status to monitor the Aug 7, 2016, referendum on the constitution, a vote eventually described as free and fair.

Pheu Thai Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai called on the government to permit or invite formal election monitoring.

"It will make the election acceptable, domestically and internationally," he claimed.

The irony was thick. In the lead-up to the last election in 2011, under Pheu Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the government strongly resisted identical calls to "allow" foreign groups to monitor the polls.

Human Rights Watch barged into the issue, calling for foreign observers to be allowed to monitor the 2019 vote.

Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, also took advantage of the momentary spotlight to call on the government to lift the ban on political activities to ensure the election is free and fair.

"As the countdown for an election has begun, the Thai military government seems to care about seeking hand-shake and photo opportunities at major international events, but refuses to allow foreign allies to come and witness what is going on the country where the environment for a free and fair election does not exist," said Mr Sunai.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reiterated Tuesday that the process to lift the political ban would take place after the organic law on the election of MPs takes effect next month.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam will explain the details of the planned dialogue and other activities related to the general election after the law takes effect, Gen Prayut said.

Of the constitution's 10 organic laws, the bill on the election of MPs is the last to be implemented due to a 90-day waiting period imposed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).

The bill, which was royally endorsed and published in the Royal Gazette in September, will take effect after Dec 10.

Government spokesman Buddhipongse Punnakanta said yesterday that Gen Prayut told Mr Wissanu to prepare a timeline related to the general election.

The timeline includes the selection of senators and the election date, tentatively set for Feb 24.

If the date does not change, a new cabinet is expected to be sworn in by June of next year, Mr Buddhipongse said.

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