By Pravit Rojanaphruk
TALK AMONG the educated middle class and the elite about taking away people's right to vote is unacceptable, Election Commission member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said, adding that this went against the fundamental values of equality.
Over past weeks, more and more anti-government protesters have been heard saying that perhaps people without a degree or those too poor to pay income tax should not be allowed to vote as they are either too gullible or prone to selling their votes.
“I don’t agree with that,” said Somchai, who is in charge of election administration. “Highly educated people can also be selfish and take advantage of society. They can also use their education and knowledge to open up new ways to engage in corruption. The argument that [better educated and wealthier] urban citizens should have more rights than provincial folks is just unacceptable.”
Somchai said anyone who only consumed one-sided media could become vulnerable and risk becoming a blind supporter of one political side. He acknowledged, however, that vote-buying was rife and it would take time to eradicate this problem.
He also cast doubt on the proposed national and political reform, recalling that the last time around – after the 2006 coup – the junta-appointed administration had a year but couldn’t do anything.
Blame, he said, should not be placed solely on the poor or the less educated, adding that it was the responsibility of the entire society. “You can’t just blame the [poor and less educated] voters and you can’t just punish them alone.”
However, he acknowledged that some rural and urban voters had been misled by a political party, adding that some policies, such as the village fund, were now being seen for what they are – money from the taxpayer’s pocket, not from a multibillionaires like Thaksin Shinawatra.
Somchai said the poor in Thailand were so poor that a few hundred baht in exchange for a vote could help cover bills for a few days, so they accepted it.
“A hundred to 200 baht means so much to them ... It has become a tradition,” he said, referring to the problem of politicians handing out money to poor voters. “The habit of vote-buying in Thailand is getting worse now than in the past.”
The commissioner also said that no matter how the electoral regulations are adjusted, this issue will continue into the long term because of the socio-economic disparity between the rich and the poor. Besides, politicians once in power have no incentive to do anything about it.