By KAS CHANWANPEN
ELECTION COMMISSION (EC) president Ittiporn Boonpracong said yesterday that international observers were welcome to monitor the upcoming election, provided they follow procedures and respect the law.
Ittiporn’s statement came after Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai rebuffed the idea of allowing outside observers, triggering heated debate recently. The minister claimed that having foreigners monitor the election would make Thailand – which becomes the Asean chair next year – look as if it lacked the ability to hold an election on its own.
The national election is scheduled for February 24, while Thailand will take the rotating position of Asean chairmanship on January 1.
Ittiporn, a former career diplomat, said yesterday that election commissioners had agreed in principle to allow international observers to monitor the long-awaited poll. He pointed out that this practice has been common since 2003, when the EC allowed foreigners to observe the voting.
However, he said, no agency has contacted the EC officially about monitoring the election.
Though the European Union (EU) has shown interest, it has yet to make official contact because the Royal Decree on the election has not been issued, he said, adding that the EC will discuss the matter again later.
As for Don’s comment that the election was an internal affair and should not involve foreigners, Ittiporn said the foreign minister’s input had no influence on the EC’s decision.
“We invite countries that have invited us to observe their elections,” he said. “And we have organisations that always monitor voting, such as the Asian Network for Free Election. They have always been allowed to observe the elections, and they know how to proceed. Nothing has changed.”
As for concerns that the elections are being held under extraordinary circumstances after four years of junta-backed rule, Ittiporn said it was not the EC’s responsibility to consider this issue.
“We will only consider observers if they agree to follow our rules,” he said. “Anything beyond that will be looked into on a case-by-case basis.”
Over the past week, debate over the matter has become heated. While Don announced it was unnecessary for foreigners to monitor the first election in five years, critics shot back, saying international scrutiny was necessary to enhance the credibility of the vote and the government that will follow. And since the election is being held under a coup-installed regime without checks and balances, proponents argue that foreign observers are especially necessary to ensure the process is open and transparent.
With the election less than three months away, the EC yesterday also met with political parties to discuss campaign guidelines, which are expected to be published early next month.
Yesterday’s meeting, attended by 154 politicians from 77 parties, covered issues such as the size of campaign banners and where they can be displayed as well as what would be allowed in online campaigning.
Politicians raised questions about whether it was possible to depict political outsiders in the banners, with many expressing concern that it may go against the law and result in parties facing dissolution.
Future Forward Party’s secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said yesterday that the rules and regulations should allow parties more freedom.
“Even if they ban photos of outsiders, voters will still know who is backing which parties,” he said.
However, the EC chief said no conclusion had been reached yet and that the commission would consider the ideas floated yesterday and come up with campaign guidelines at the start of the new year.