By KAS CHANWANPEN
DESPITE the junta’s promise of a poll less than six months from now, the atmosphere of distrust remains, with pro-democracy movements yesterday launching a new election watchdog, “Free Fair & Fruition Election” (FFFE), to monitor the first election organised by the coup-installed regime.
The group said the election, currently set for February, could offer hope to unravel past conflicts and transition the country back to normal. But they remain concerned that the poll might not be free and fair, according to the watchdog leader, Anusorn Unno, a professor from Thammasat University.
To ensure the election is free and fair, FFFE demanded that the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) repeal all its announcements and orders that currently obstruct political activities related to the election as well as to media freedom.
The group also called on the four incumbent ministers who had joined the Palang Pracharat Party to step down from power to avoid abuse of power in favour of that party while its rivals remain restricted by the political ban. The group expressed concern that the party might be misusing taxpayers’ money to champion its personal popularity ahead of the election.
FFFE is a collaboration of more than 10 pro-democracy networks, including the Democracy Restoration Group, Start Up People and Federation of Patani Students and Youth. It is led by prominent pro-democracy activists like Nuttaa Mahattana, Sirawith Seritiwat, Chonthicha Jaengrew and Tanawat Wongchai.
These networks and individuals have taken different forms in the past four years to counter the coup and its regime while calling for the return of democracy. Many of them have suffered different forms of intimidation, including home visits by the military and lawsuits as a result of their opposition to the junta.
In addition to plans to organise political public seminars, Anusorn said FFFE would also collaborate with the Asian Network for Free Elections to observe the election.
“We’re still concerned that rampant corruption might occur in the upcoming election if some groups aren’t confident they’ll win,” he said. “So, we’ll also take on the role of scrutinise the voting, initially relying on our student networks.”
FFFE coordinator Chonthicha urged all sectors to keep an eye on the voting process. Because the NCPO retains absolute power, groups that support them could enjoy privileges not available to other parties, she said.
The voting next year should be meaningful to the people, she said. Hence, all sectors should be allowed to raise issues as well as solutions openly, and political parties should be allowed to discuss issues with the public without any intimidation by the state, Chonthicha added. Other pro-democracy groups in the FFFE, including iLaw and Student Union of Thailand, took much the same position, emphasising the importance of the NCPO giving up its absolute power under Article 44 and lifting bans that were a hindrance to the rights and freedoms of the people.
Meanwhile, Palang Pracharat Party – with incumbent ministers Utama Sawanayon and Sonthirat Sontijirawong as core leaders – remained active in meeting with voters.
Utama and Sonthirat will next Monday meet with some 100 voters from various sectors to listen to their demands and reflections on different issues, according to the party’s executive Chuan Chujan.
Although political campaigning remained prohibited, Chuan said similar events would be held weekly or at least monthly during the lead-up to the election. Uttama, Sonthirat, Konsak Pootrakul, and Suwit Mesinsee have defended their decision to join the party and stated they would not step down from their current position despite the controversy.