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Rigging suspicions mount in Thailand's post-coup election
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 07 - 04 - 2019

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK — Thailand's first general election since a 2014 army coup has been touted by the ruling military junta as a return to democratic rule, but two weeks after the vote, results are still unclear and allegations of manipulation are mounting.
Since the March 24 vote, figures linked to a "democratic front" of opposition parties say they have come under increasing pressure from police and the military.
The Election Commission has also indicated it would use a complex allocation formula for 150 "party seats" in the House of Representatives in a way that would likely dilute the opposition alliance's seats in the 500-seat lower house.
The Election Commission has said it won't announce even provisional winners of the 150 party seats until May 9, saying it needs time to order by-elections and vote recounts as well as to disqualify candidates who broke election laws.
But critics say the time gap allows the military-royalist establishment to manipulate results and disqualify opponents of the pro-army Palang Pracharat party that seeks to keep junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in power as an elected prime minister.
The leading opposition Pheu Thai party, made up of loyalists to army-ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, sees the delays and legal actions as an attempt to deny the "democratic front" enough seats in the House needed to block the main junta-linked party from unrestrained lawmaking power.
"After the election ... the majority of the people feels a sense of hopelessness and distrust for the election process," said Pheu Thai's secretary general, Phumtham Wechayachai.
"People are talking about the Election Commission's part in supporting the extension of power by the National Council for Peace and Order," he said, using the junta's formal name.
The Election Commission's secretary general, Jaroongwit Phumma, told Reuters the body is not helping the pro-military party. "The election commission is neutral and adheres to the law. We don't take sides or help one particular party," Jaroongwit said.
Palang Pracharat said it does not gain any advantages over opposition parties.
"It's completely false to say that the election commission is helping Palang Pracharat. This is an attempt to discredit us," the party's deputy spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana told Reuters.
However, opposition figures say they are being targeted.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the youth-oriented Future Forward Party which did surprisingly well in the vote, was charged on Saturday with sedition on a junta complaint dating back to 2015 — a case that could see his party disbanded.
Online campaigns have also cast Thanathorn as anti-monarchy, a serious crime in Thailand, where the monarchy is revered without question.
Thanathorn denies being against the monarchy and all charges against him.
"It's the establishment's desire to stir hatred, fear, and mistrust among the people, creating legitimacy for the military to take over and stay on," Thanathorn said last week.

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