High turnout in March 24 Thai elections may hit smaller parties hard

Thai voters cast their ballots during the advance voting of the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 17, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With an 80 per cent voter turnout expected on March 24, more votes may be needed to gain partylist MPs, say experts.

The high turnout seen for advance voting last Sunday (March 17) not only posed challenges to the Election Commission (EC), exposing its inadequacies, but is also worrying for small and medium-sized parties, as it signals they will need more votes to get seats from the proportional party list.

Dr Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist at Thammasat University, sees the possibility of voter turnout hitting 80 per cent on March 24, well above the 70 to 75 per cent turnout seen in 2010.

The high turnout for advance voting might have been due to more people being determined to exercise their rights because of the difficult registration process for this year's vote. It is also possible that the trend will continue for the final leg of the election next week, he said.

"People are possibly more alert and conscious of the election because of all the news," the analyst said. "And they are more determined and will not easily back down because they have learned about the possible difficulties beforehand. So, they are unlikely to be deterred by long queues and crowds."

"This is in addition to the fact that we have not had an election in so many years," he added.

If the voter turnout on Sunday exceeds 80 per cent, Dr Attasit predicted that smaller parties would find it hard to gain seats. Until now, the calculation was that 70,000 votes could get them one seat, but that number may change with the higher turnout, he added.

"If more people vote, (these parties) may need 80,000 or even close to 100,000 (votes) to gain a (party-list) seat in the Lower House," he said. "Bigger parties may not be affected because they would have already won seats in constituencies."

Mr Nikorn Chamnong, director of Chartthaipattana Party, however, believes that 70,000 votes per seat are the maximum votes required for a seat. He said he did not think the required number could be higher despite the higher turnout.

However, the added concern for smaller parties is how people will vote. If a huge number of votes go to one particular bloc, it would have a significant weightage in post-election politics, he said.

"So, the entire House, big and small parties, will have to listen to the voice of the people," he said. "There'll be much pressure in politics."

Regarding reports of incorrect ballots being handed to voters on March 17, scholar Attasit said the mistake could have occurred at local polling stations.

The EC should learn from this and consider setting up a hotline with local stations so that they can reach the higher authorities in the event of any confusion, he said. The EC said on Monday (March 18) that nearly 87 per cent of voters who had registered for advance voting had turned out.

Several areas saw more than 90 per cent of registered voters exercising their suffrage, EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong told a press briefing on Monday.

Polling stations opened and closed at the official times - 8am and 5pm - except for Bang Kapi district, which saw a deluge of voters. The closing time for entering the voting centre had to be delayed by an hour due to the long queues outside. Bang Kapi had the highest number of people registering for early voting in Bangkok.

Amid criticism and questions about the conduct and transparency of the early voting, the EC president on Monday clarified that the authority had found only three cases of electoral laws being violated.

There were reports of several cases of people being given the wrong ballots. Netizens had posted that when they drew the attention of station officials to the mistake, they were told to use the incorrect ballot.

Mr Ittiporn on Monday admitted that such errors had occurred. There was nothing that could be done about it except to report the incident, he insisted.

If the voters had raised the issue before doing anything with the ballot paper, the EC president said the authority could have given them the correct ballot, he said. The other two irregularities occurred in three provinces, he said.

In Samut Songkhram, one whole ballot-paper book had been marked for an unidentified candidate. When the authority learned about it, the book was destroyed, he said, but he refused to reveal which party the candidate was affiliated with.

He defended changes in polling station locations in response to complaints that no notice, or only short notice, was given of the change.

Deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Monday that all the errors and mistakes were understandable, given that this was the first election in a long time.

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