BANGKOK -- The Election Commission of Thailand has come under criticism in the run-up to the March 24 general election, with some questioning whether the poll will be free and fair as local watchdogs and Western countries have urged.
Niphatphon Suwanchana, a Bangkok candidate for the small Seri Ruam Thai Party, filed a complaint on Monday, asking that his information on a candidate brochure created by the commission be corrected. The document erroneously indicated his party affiliation.
Another Bangkok hopeful, Parit Wacharashindhu of the Democrat Party, complained on the same day that a brochure distributed to Thais living in London was flawed and confusing. He said his photo, name, registered candidate number, and his party affiliation were not all on the same page.
Claiming that he is not the only one that has issues with the brochure, Parit said the document could mislead voters or cause them to pick the wrong candidate.
Thais living abroad have already begun voting in the country's first election in eight years and have until March 16 to cast their ballots. Citizens within the country who live outside their hometowns can vote on March 17.
The seven-member commission had to wait until Tuesday to address the issues as six of the commissioners had been overseas until Sunday.
Thais living in Kuala Lumpur also had problems, as the Thai embassy was forced to put up cardboard voting booths to accommodate the roughly 4,000 people who had lined up to vote. The move went viral over social media, with people complaining that the makeshift booths did little to ensure privacy.
Even before these flubs, the People's Network for Elections, a local independent election monitor, reported on March 5 that the Election Commission did not meet performance standards over the preceding six months. The watchdog said the commission had failed to demonstrate that it is not being influenced by outside forces.
"There were many petitions, but only one was forwarded to the Constitutional Court," it said, referring to the decision to dissolve the anti-junta Thai Raksa Chart Party for nominating Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial candidate. The watchdog stated that the commission took no action on another petition to seek a ruling on whether Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha should be allowed to remain in power after the return to civilian rule.
The watchdog also noted that commissioners spent 12 million baht on foreign trips, and that they failed to support nongovernmental organizations in their efforts to educate the public about election monitoring, which is part of the Election Commission's mission statement.
It urged the commission to improve its performance and also to make timely announcements regarding its actions so that "administration of the election will be transparent and accepted both locally and internationally."
Since the 2014 coup, Western countries have pushed the junta to hold free and fair elections. The European Union has even warned that relations with Thailand could sour if the election fails to meet internationally accepted standards for transparency.
The EU has wanted to monitor the election, but the junta has refused to allow it and other foreign observers. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan shrugged off calls in December 2018 to permit foreign monitors, saying there is no need as Thailand has its own regulator, referring to the Election Commission.