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Posts from the ‘Election 2014’ Category

Senate Candidates Campaign Without Politics

2014 March 30
by Sally Mairs
senate rally

Crowds gather at Khon Kaen’s provincial hall to hear senatorial candidates speak.

KHON KAEN—When Komet Teekhathananon took to the stage outside the provincial hall on Thursday, he described his experience as a business owner and a local politician. Mr. Komet is running for senator, and this was his sole chance to speak to voters before Sunday’s senatorial election. But there was one catch: he was not allowed to talk about politics.

“As a senatorial candidate, there are many laws that control what I can say,” said 57-year-old Mr. Komet, whose family owns a marketplace in Khon Kaen. “So it’s hard to explain what I really want you to understand.”

Mr. Komet is one of seven candidates running for senator in Khon Kaen Province. Strict rules aimed at maintaining a non-partisan Senate in Thailand bar candidates from carrying out many common campaign practices, including discussing current political issues.

The few permissible activities include posting billboards with their names and slogans on government offices, and submitting photos and short biographies to be circulated by mail and broadcasted over government radio.

On Thursday, each candidate in Khon Kaen was also given 15 minutes to speak on stage before a crowd of approximately 2,000 people in front of the provincial hall.

Because senatorial candidates are prohibited from discussing political issues, most of their speeches focused on personal qualifications.

Like Mr. Komet, prominent radio D.J. Wan Suwanphong, 75, also addressed the limitations placed on his campaign speech.

“I believe that we still need to amend the constitution, but I am not permitted to speak much on what I want to see change,” said Mr. Wan.

Instead, Mr. Wan discussed his background as a lawyer.  Yet he did finish with a comment that made clear his view of the Constitutional Court’s recent ruling to void the February 2 election of MPs.

“I am afraid that the March 30 election could end up the same as the MP election on February 2,” Mr. Wan said. “If it becomes invalid again, I will be the lawyer that sues whomever invalidates it.”

Mr. Thitinan Saengnak, 53, also gestured towards his political position without being explicit.

“We have to work with people from the bureaucratic system, like the Office of Ombudsman. We have to work with these people. You know who they are and what they believe,” said Mr. Thitinan.

The Office of Ombudsman is one of several government agencies considered to be aligned with the anti-government camp.

“I want to stay with you on your side,” Mr. Thitinan told the Khon Kaen audience. “I believe that we have the same position, the same point of view.”

Other candidates avoided politics and focused on more neutral issues.

Suwit Namboonroeng, age 62, cited a lifelong commitment to democracy and stressed the importance of education.

Forty-seven-year-old Suthon Sornkhamkaew, who has a background in accounting, stressed his personal impartiality.

“I’m totally independent, I am not interested in backing up any color in particular, “ said Mr. Suthon. “I think the most important thing for the senator is to be honest and have integrity.”

Senatorial candidates cannot be affiliated with a political party, so it is especially valuable to have high name-recognition.

“You cannot be just anybody and run for senator,” said Khon Kaen Election Commissioner Thitipol Thosarod. “There are always some unknown candidates who use this situation to introduce themselves to the public, but usually the people who run for Senate are already very well-known in the province.”

Although anti-government protesters have vowed to block any MP election that is held before a series of national reforms are implemented, they say they will not interfere with Sunday’s Senate election. This is likely because the Senate, which holds the power to impeach the Prime Minister with a three-to-five vote, is essential to any effort to oust Prime Minister Yingluck.

As a result of the 2007 constitution, Thailand’s Senate is only half-elected; the other half is appointed by judges and government officials who are widely considered to be members of the anti-Shinawatra establishment.

The committee that appoints senators includes senior leaders from the Constitutional Court, National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Election Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

With a strong influence from these agencies, the Senate is expected to back a decision to impeach Prime Minister Yingluck if the NACC recommends it.

The NACC has charged Ms. Yingluck with negligence of duty in overseeing the government’s controversial rice-pledging scheme. The Prime Minister is scheduled to appear before the NACC on March 31, and the corruption commission is expected to announce its verdict early next month.

With the current government hanging in the balance, the Senate candidates elected on Sunday are set to play a pivotal role in determining the course of Thailand’s political crisis.

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Law Students File Complaint Against Constitutional Court

2014 March 29
by The Isaan Record
Law students demonstrate in front of of Khon Kaen's Administrative Court.

Law students demonstrate in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court.

Khon Kaen University Law students filed a complaint against Thailand’s Office of the Ombudsman on Monday in regards to the recent Constitutional Court decision to invalidate the February 2 congressional election.

The student-run human rights group, Dao Din, argued that the Office of the Ombudsman did not have the authority to forward the February 2 election case to the Constitutional Court.  They  also requested financial compensation for the cost of traveling to the polls on February 2 and for the retraction of their political right to vote.

“I feel that the court has lost their legitimacy,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a 23-year-old law student at Khon Kaen University and member of Dao Din. “They have made a mistake and created a dead end for Thailand.”

Before filing the complaint on Monday, Dao Din staged a skit in front of Khon Kaen’s Administrative Court mocking the Constitutional Court judges and depicting what they consider to be the court’s “silent coup.”

After the demonstration, members of Dao Din affirmed their commitment to democracy and read the group’s official position on the political crisis that has gradually unravelled Thailand’s elected government. 

“We don’t want a reformed government or one that comes from the military, through the independent agencies, or through any power which overthrows the democratic system by undemocratic forces,” the group’s official statement said.

A group of academics known as the Assembly for the Defence of Democracy (AFDD) also criticised the Office of Ombudsman’s actions on Monday. In an official statement, the AFDD argued that the Office of the Ombudsman can only forward complaints to the Constitutional Court that concern the constitutionality of legal provisions, which they argue the “the holding of a general election” does not fall under.

 

Early Election Results Show Drop in Voter Turnout

2014 February 3
by The Isaan Record

Voting in Thailand’s general election proceeded without disruption in 89 percent of constituencies yesterday, including the entirety of the Northeast, but initial results show voter turnout in Isaan to be significantly lower than the rate in 2011.

Although not all advanced ballots have been counted due to interferences by protesters last week, preliminary results show that only 56 percent of eligible voters in the Northeast voted on Sunday, compared to the 72 percent that voted in the last general election in 2011.

Yet, these election numbers reveal a higher turnout rate in the Northeast than in the Central and Northern regions of the country, which had turnout rates of 42 percent and 45 percent respectively.

The turnout rate in Isaan ranged from 72 percent in Nongbua Lamphu Province, to 43 percent in Sisaket Province. Results for all other Northeastern provinces can be viewed here.

An official announcement of election results will be delayed due to the obstruction of voting in many parts of Bangkok and the South, say Election Commission officials. In addition to blocking candidate registration in a number of constituencies and disrupting early voting last week, anti-government protestors halted voting in 69 out of 375 constituencies on Sunday. By-elections in those constituencies are required by law to be held within three weeks.

With the main opposition Democrat party boycotting the election, the ruling Pheu Thai party is expected to win by a landslide.

Slideshow: Khon Kaen Voters Go To The Polls

2014 February 3
by The Isaan Record

On February 2, The Isaan Record traveled around the city of Khon Kaen to hear from voters at the polls. The election proceeded smoothly in Khon Kaen and most parts of Thailand outside of Bangkok and several provinces in the South. Still, a full government will not be formed until elections are re-held in areas where the voting process was disrupted.

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Mrs. Ratchadakorn Nanwong

"I think that we are going to have more unrest and turmoil after this, but I have to keep on voting because it is my only political right."

Ratchadakorn Nanwong, 56, restaurant owner.

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Voting at Ban Sam Liam Public School in Khon Kaen.

Pjyapon Rodkamhang

"People are eager to vote this time. They hope their votes will help stop the protests in Bangkok."

Pjyapon Rodkamhang, 39, voting official.

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MP candidates running in Khon Kaen's Zone 1.

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"I think democracy is perfect because it means that the majority's voice will be heard."

Sunthon Phayakmalerng, 37, small business owner.

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"I want the protesters in Bangkok to stop. We are all Thai, we have to talk, we have to negotiate."

Pat Phookerd, 60, street vendor.

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"In a democracy, all people are equal. That's why I think it's so important for Thailand to keep this political system."

Mr. Witawat, 35, restaurant owner.

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"In the last general election there was a candidate that I hoped would win, but I was too young to vote. This time I don't have anyone that I want to get the seat, but I voted "No" so that I could still exercise my right."

Kanpitcha Hmo-Hmai, 19, Khon Kaen University student.

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Volunteers at polling station in Khon Kaen.

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"Voting is especially important to me today because there are people who are doing anything they can to block the election."

Mr. Akarush, 32, restaurant employee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs taken by Lydia Kopecky.

New Voices on the Khon Kaen Ballot

2014 February 1
by Sally Mairs

KHON KAEN—Thailand’s highly anticipated general election is set to go forward tomorrow, despite the uncertainty that has shrouded the February 2 snap election from the start. In Khon Kaen, this uncertainty has led to a quieter campaign season than normal, and it has also opened up new spaces for smaller political parties in the race.

It was not until earlier this week that Prime Minister Yingluck officially ruled out postponing the February 2 date, and lingering questions remain about how results will be tallied with 28 constituencies still lacking registered candidates, and thousands of people having been blocked from casting their advanced ballots last week.

As a result, Jukkarin Patdamrongjit, one of Khon Kaen’s incumbent Pheu Thai candidates, is running a very different campaign than he did in 2011. His posters are smaller, he has fewer canvassers, and his leaflets don’t include any points about policy. Mr. Jukkarin stressed that this year’s campaign is solely about the act of voting.

“For this election, the Pheu Thai Party’s only goal is to get past February 2,” said Mr. Jukkarin. “Then we will be able to see how many people voted.  It doesn’t matter who they vote for, because simply voting means they disagree with Suthep.”

Pheu Thai’s landslide victory in the last general election and the party’s solid support base across the Isaan region make Mr. Jukkarin almost certain to be reelected.

Yet, that doesn’t mean other MP candidates in Khon Kaen aren’t out on the campaign trail too. In fact, several new parties are using this election to build name recognition and position themselves for success should the country’s unpredictable political turmoil play out in their favor later on.

The Cooperative Power Party (Palang Sahakorn) is fielding three candidates in Khon Kaen, and it is running on the promise to provide farmers with more financial support and protection through an expansion of Thailand’s cooperative system.

Suparerk Putposri, the Cooperative Power candidate running in Khon Kaen’s zone 2, said he does not expect to win this election, but suspects that the country’s unstable political climate might open up an opportunity for him soon.

“I think it is likely we will have another election in the next 6 months,” said Mr. Suparerk. “Or, if the Pheu Thai party runs into legal problems and the candidate is stopped from getting the seat, I might be the next candidate in line.”

The two-year-old New Democracy Party, which consists primarily of teachers and is focused on empowering the rural poor, is also preparing for the potential decline of Pheu Thai.

New Democracy MP candidate Surachai Hanchin said he suspects that Pheu Thai’s stronghold in the Northeast will begin to weaken soon, and hopes that his party will be able to fill the vacuum.

“Somebody needs to be there for the rural people,” said Mr. Surachai. “We will be the smaller political party that they can access.”

Another small party fielding candidates in Khon Kaen is hoping that its neutrality in the country’s political conflict will help rally support.

“We understand this crisis,” said Pooncharas Thatdi, the People’s Monthly Party candidate for Khon Kaen’s zone 1. “We are the neutral party that people can rely on. We will not take sides.”

Only a year in the making, the People’s Monthly Party is founded on implementing a system in which children receive a 15,000 baht deposit in their bank account every month starting on the day they are born.

Other parties fielding three or more candidates in Khon Kaen include Chart Pattana, Bhumjaithai, and the People’s Voice Party. In total, of 12 of the country’s 53 political parties have MP candidates running in Khon Kaen Province, though only Pheu Thai has a candidate running in each of the province’s ten constituencies.

There will be 2,671 voting units set up in Khon Kaen Province tomorrow, and the local Election Commissioner, Thitipol Thosarod, said he expects the election to be orderly.

Khon Kaen Activists Remain Divided, But Peaceful

2014 January 28
by Sally Mairs

KHON KAEN—Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Election Commission are expected to reach a decision this afternoon on whether or not the February 2 elections will be postponed, but Khon Kaen residents, like Thais across the country, remain divided on their hopes for the outcome. Yet while chaos, and at times violence, has dominated the streets of Bangkok in recent weeks, both sides of the divide in Khon Kaen plan to respond to today’s announcement – regardless of the outcome – calmly and peacefully.

In Khon Kaen, the minority anti-government activists are hoping the elections will be postponed until after the government has undergone significant reform, while Khon Kaen’s strong Red Shirt constituency, which supports the Yingluck government and wants to take the country’s disagreements to the polls, is hoping the February 2 date will remain in place.

The Khon Kaen chapter of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has been holding anti-government rallies at the city shrine every night since January 3 and sending daily buses of anti-government supporters to participate in the Bangkok protests. But the chairman of the group, 58-year-old Khon Kaen resident Kamol Kitkasitwat, said that even if the government decides to go forward with Sunday’s election, the group does not plan to stage any special demonstrations or protests.

“We don’t want to provoke any violence,” said Mr. Kamol. He added that so far, the group’s nightly rallies have not elicited any hostility from Red Shirt supporters.

Mr. Kamol said that if the polls are open on February 2, PDRC activists may demonstrate at voting stations in Khon Kaen to express their position against the election, but they will not attempt to block voters from casting ballots, as was the case in Bangkok on Sunday.

Many members of Khon Kaen’s strong Red Shirt constituency are hoping for an opposite outcome from Yingluck’s 2 p.m. meeting with the Election Commission, but they also do not plan to respond aggressively if the decision does not go their way.

Forty-year-old Khon Kaen radio DJ Sanya Simma said he is afraid that if the election is postponed today, it might be a long time before the Thai people get another chance to vote. Yet he and another Khon Kaen radio DJ, 45-year-old Bhutdhipong Khanhaengpon, said a decision to delay the election would not be enough to turn them against the government.

“We are ready to listen to the reason that the government gives us,” said Bhutdhipong. “If the reason is good enough, or even not good enough, we will listen and think.”

Pheu Thai party list candidate Thanik Masripitak said he is worried that a postponement of the election will disillusion Pheu Thai voters, but that he will continue to campaign for the party regardless.

“We will have to campaign harder to explain to our supporters why we have to postpone,” said Mr. Thanik. “We hope that our supporters will keep understanding.”

The stark contrast between how the conflict is playing out in Bangkok versus Khon Kaen was illustrated when advance voting on January 26 was either blocked entirely or disrupted at 49 out of 50 polling stations in Bangkok, but completely unimpeded in Khon Kaen and other areas in the northeast.

For the time being, political activity in Khon Kaen, and across much of the Northeast, appears far less confrontational than in Bangkok.

“There will be no violence in this province because most of us know we have different political ideologies and beliefs,” anti-government leader Mr. Komol said. “We can say to one another, ‘I understand that you have a different idea, but we can still live together.’”