Shortage of 44,000 election officials threatens to derail polls
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Shortage of 44,000 election officials threatens to derail polls

An official is taking a ballot box and the sheets from a depot to the Din Daeng district office for the election day.
An official is taking a ballot box and the sheets from a depot to the Din Daeng district office for the election day.

The Election Commission (EC) is frantically searching for a further 44,000 officials to staff polling stations with just two days until the country goes to the polls.

PDRC protesters are rallying at Bang Saphan police station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province to block officials from distributing ballot boxes and sheets to polling stations. (Photo by Chaiwat Sadyeam).

As the agency attempts to find people willing to man polling units, supporters and opponents of the election have begun campaigning for and against the election in several provinces, including Bangkok.

The EC has to find an extra 44,000 officials to work on Sunday, including 4,000 to oversee polling booths in the capital, commissioners Pravich Rattanapien and Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said.

The law states that each station must have nine officials in place by 8am so that polls can open. A total of 93,305 polling stations are being set up nationwide. Voting will run from 8am to 3pm.

Mr Somchai said staff shortages were worst in southern provinces, where 90% of polling stations are without the necessary number of officials. No staff are registered to work at polling units in either Surat Thani or Songkhla provinces, he added.

The situation is so serious that Mr Somchai said the EC might appeal to voters who come to polling stations early on Sunday morning to act as officials.

Aside from finding enough officials to man polling stations, the EC must also try and overcome the fact that the distribution of ballot boxes and papers bound for 14 southern provinces has been blocked by People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship will camp out at Don Muang district office until Sunday to make sure polling can go ahead. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Ballot sheets and boxes for party-list MP candidates are being held at central post offices in Chumphon, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla provinces, preventing them from being delivered to polling units in the region.

Members of the PDRC have been surrounding the post offices since Thursday to oppose the poll. Mr Somchai said the EC favoured using negotiation rather than force to disperse the demonstrators.

Despite the problem, the EC has already delivered constituency candidate ballot sheets and boxes to all southern provinces, he said.

Bantherng Watcharasereekul, election chief in Phatthalung, predicted that polls would not be held in the province on Sunday since party-list ballot papers and boxes are yet to be delivered and more than half of stations in the area are without sufficient officials.

In the central region, Prachuap Khiri Khan province is facing the same problem. PDRC protesters rallied at Bang Saphan police station to block officials from distributing ballot boxes and sheets for Sunday. Another group is protesting against the polls in Muang district.

In addition to problems with ballot papers and boxes in the South, candidates were unable to register in 28 constituencies across eight provinces - Chumphon, Surat Thani, Songkhla, Phuket, Phatthalung, Trang, Krabi and Nakhon Si Thammarat - meaning there is no one to contest the polls in affected areas.

However, the election should go ahead as scheduled in more than 66 provinces, the EC said.

Election chiefs in Phayao, Chiang Rai, Phrae and other northern provinces said on Friday that preparations for the poll are under way. No attempts have been made to derail proceedings.

Mr Somchai said constituencies that are unable to run a vote will have a second chance on March 2.

Supporters of the election in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat are meanwhile demanding the release of ballot boxes and papers so that the election can go ahead.

Other pro-election groups have started securing polling stations, including some in Bangkok, in a pre-emptive move to make sure the PDRC is unable to prevent voters going inside.

The red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship began guarding the Don Muang district office on Friday and will camp out there until Sunday.

Deputy army spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree said soldiers are ready to protect all polling stations but will not use force to end possible conflicts between voters and anti-government groups.

Police will take the lead in providing security on voting day. The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order said on Thursday that around 130,000 officers will be stationed at polling booths across the country and another 8,000 in Bangkok.

In another development, Rak Thailand Party leader Chuwit Kamolvisit has uploaded a video to YouTube encouraging people to use their right to vote on Sunday.

In an aggressive presentation, he challenges people who oppose the election to meet him at his polling station in the Din Daeng area of Bangkok.

If any mob tried to bar him from entering the polling station, he said, the government should protect him as he would be armed with nothing, only his ID card.

Mr Chuwit asked why protesters only started thinking about reform prior to the election, as corruption has been carried out in Thailand for more than 10 years.

He also asked which country does not have a social gap. Under capitalism, he said, all countries have more poor people than rich ones.

Mr Chuwit said, however, that all people are equal for "10 seconds" when they vote, and no one should steal that 10 seconds from anyone else.

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