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General news >> Monday December 17, 2007
RACE TO PARLIAMENT

Questions raised over high voter turnout

Not spontaneous, say political analysts

POST REPORTERS

The high voter turnout in two days of advance voting was far from spontaneous and may have been organised beforehand, political analysts said.

They do not believe many voters came out to vote without being influenced by the state and that ''money politics'' could come into play during the final week before polling day next Sunday.

An estimated one and a half million people turned out to cast advance votes in the general election, defying previous speculation of a low turnout due to lack of public interest in politics. Advance voting across the country began on Saturday and ended yesterday.

Narong Boonsuayphan, an academic at Walailak University in Nakhon Si Thammarat, said the high turnout did not represent full public awareness of democracy.

It appeared to be a well-orchestrated campaign by those in power to whip up voter support, he said.

He said the final week before the polling day would see political rivals resort to various means to rally voter support.

''They will mobilise support using money power,'' he said, adding that this could sully the value of the democratic system in the long term.

Poll workers carry 20 boxes of advance ballots into a cell for safekeeping at Din Daeng police station on the weekend. The sealed boxes will be kept at the police station until election day next Sunday when they will be opened and counted. An estimated one and a half million people cast early ballots over the weekend.

Somphan Techa-athik, a lecturer at Khon Kaen University, said the Election Commission (EC) played a role in persuading people to vote in advance.

The EC had asked business owners to give employees time off work to vote.

However, Mr Somphan questioned whether the transportation of voters to polling booths was a violation of the election law.

People also realised that if they failed to vote they could be stripped of their voting rights under the new constitution, he said.

He predicted that large numbers of voters would still turn up for the election if the high turnout for the advance voting was used as a yardstick.

He added that undecided voters from the middle class in major cities could be a decisive factor in determining the outcome of the election.

He said poll cheaters had now devised subtle ways to buy votes.

Lt-Gen Samrerng Sivadamrong, commander of the Third Army based in the North, dismissed allegations that soldiers were given orders to turn up in force to cast advance votes.

The last day of advance voting yesterday went smoothly, although some voters still did not understand the procedures, according to observers.

Many buses were seen taking workers from industrial factories to polling stations.

Police and military officers kept coming out to vote.

Election commissioner Somchai Juengprasert estimated that about 80% of the 2.09 million people who registered to cast advance ballots outside their constituencies came out to vote during the two-day advance voting, which ended yesterday.

In the Northeast, more than 800,000 voters cast ballots on Saturday, or 42% of those who registered for advance voting nationwide.

In Bangkok, 46% of 900,000 registered people went to the polling stations to vote on Saturday.

Mr Somchai said he was satisfied with the high turnout. He said people were politically active and wanted the country to move forward.

The two-day advance voting ran smoothly. He conceded, however, that some voters were still confused by the different sets of ballots for the party list and constituency elections.

He assured the public that all ballot boxes would be kept safely. Some are locked in store rooms at post offices and in cells at police stations.

Political parties were invited to observe the EC's handing of the ballot boxes.

He said he had heard reports that some people were planning to create chaos after the election.

In Suphan Buri, a People Power party candidate has been charged with insulting police during the election campaign.

Prasaeng Mongkholsiri, 45, a constituency candidate for Uthai Thani, refused to acknowledge the charge.

He threatened to file a counter-suit against police.

Mr Prasaeng has been accused of insulting a police team led by Suphan Buri police chief Chairat Thipchan during a campaign rally in tambon Tha Piliang in Muang district.

The officers rushed to the scene and asked the candidate to campaign elsewhere following complaints that the campaign rally caused traffic congestion on Khunkrai road.


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