Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha waves as he leaves from the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, 08 August 2016. Thailand held a referendum on a controversial military backed draft constitution on 07 August, the first polling in the country
PRIME MINISTER Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has denounced international criticism of the junta’s restrictions in the run-up to the referendum vote.
“It’s disappointing … that there has been some inappropriate intervention by foreign elements during the delicate time in our political transition,” Prayut said, being quoted by Government Deputy Spokesperson Maj-Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak.
“All these interferences have inevitably led us to have contempt for the sentiments of those who claim to be ‘friends’ of Thailand,” Prayut continued. “This malicious intent has resonated loud and clear in the hearts and minds of the people who have spoken with resolve at the referendum today [Sunday].”
Prayut’s statement followed the junta’s success in winning approval for the controversial charter draft, receiving about 61 per cent of approved votes nationwide. An additional question, asking whether MPs and the junta-selected Senate should be allowed to select a prime minister, also gained an approval rate of 58 per cent.
But the junta paid the price for success as Thailand’s image in the international community worsened regarding its failure to follow a democratic approach and respect the rights of people, especially in the days before the vote when political expression was strictly limited by the junta, critics said.
Several foreign entities, both governmental and independent, urged Prayut’s government to abide by internationally accepted rights.
Prior to the vote, the US Embassy urged the Thai government to open public spaces. The embassy also unofficially observed Sunday’s vote in 13 provinces, which drew criticism from the Election Commission, which said it had not been notified in advance.
However, the embassy’s spokesperson, Melissa Sweeney, showed The Nation a copy of a letter, signed by its political counsellor Keith M Anderton and dated July 29, informing the EC secretary-general of their planned observation with notes that the EC would not be interrupted.
Sweeney said the embassy’s personnel, deployed in 13 provinces, found that the voting process went peacefully with polling staff appearing to be helpful and eager to assist voters.
International watchdogs, including the Asian Network for Free Elections (Anfrel) and The Asia Foundation, also observed Sunday’s vote unofficially.
Pongsak Chan-on, Anfrel’s project coordinator, said the voting procedure was peaceful and decently managed without traces of fraud. There were some minor technical errors which should not significantly affect the outcome, Pongsak said.
But Anfrel was worried by the presence of armed security officials close to some voting booths. He said only a few people were eager to monitor vote counting at the booths. “This contributed to a lack of free discussion space prior to the voting day that could encourage public participation in voting procedures,” he said.
Anfrel had about 15 foreign and local staff watching polling stations in Bangkok and six nearby provinces.
Kim McQuay, of the Asia Foundation, said the foundation deployed 10 staff to informally observe the polling process in and around Bangkok.
While voters were satisfied with the vote’s administration, Kim said many of them said the additional question was complicated and there was concern that some voters did not understand the broader substance of the charter draft.