Asian Net-Work on Free Election statement on Thailand’s protests & disruptions of elections

The following is from The Asian Net-work on Free Election  (ANFREL) on Thailand’s Ongoing Protests and Disruptions to the 02 February Elections

The net-work mission is to support democratization efforts in the Asian region. Specificly, ANFREL is committed to supporting local groups initiatives on: A. Election monitoring/pre-post election, referendum and local election and other democracy-related processes. B. Education and trainings on election and democracy-related studies. C. Research on election and democracy-related issues and cover electoral and democratic reforms. D. Conduct campaigns and advocacy work on issues related to democratic processes. E. Information dissemination and publication of materials related to election and other democratic processes. F. Creation of an environment conductive to a democratic development on the spirit of regional solidarity.

December 24th, 2013

For Immediate Release:

BANGKOK, 23 DECEMBER 2013 – The ANFREL Foundation wishes to express its ongoing concern about street protests in Bangkok, in particular, the recent attempt by protesters to forcibly block elections scheduled for 02 February 2014 as well as their call for an unelected and unrepresentative body to govern the country, a so-called “People’s Assembly”, that, as proposed, would likely not be representative of the people as a whole.

The right to protest peacefully is a basic right in a democratic society. Indeed, in Thailand, those protesting have the right to not vote or to ‘vote no’ on the ballot. That right to protest however does not extend to attempts to disrupt crucial aspects of the pre-election process such as registration of candidates as has been done recently. Nor does it allow protesters to prevent people from going to vote as protest leaders vowed over the weekend. All efforts and plans to forcibly impede the election process should cease. Protest leaders claiming to seek a more ‘true’ or ‘complete’ democracy should start by allowing the free exercise of others’ right to participate in the election.

ANFREL also wants to remind all Thai stakeholders of the unique role that elections hold in a democracy. They remain an indispensable tool to gauge public opinion and are essential to provide a mandate, and democratic legitimacy, to any government or reform body.  It is important to remember that Thailand has over 46 million eligible voters and it’s only an election or referendum that can offer the opportunity for all their voices to be heard.

This holds true even though the reforms sought by most protesters are in fact laudable. Indeed, accountability, transparency, and good governance are goals that ANFREL shares with many of the protesters. That said, it is equally important that any reform effort be an inclusive process that includes all the people of Thailand, not just a small body of well-connected insiders appointed by an even smaller group of unelected leaders. An appointed body not representative of the country as a whole that would undertake major reforms is a recipe for continuing the destructive, dangerous cycle of protests and instability which Thailand finds itself in. Such a reform body is not a solution to the problems Thailand faces.

As ANFREL’s Executive Director Ichal Supriadi has stated, “protesters will only achieve their ultimate goals when they take the longer, more difficult, yet more sustainable, path of democratic reform that requires civic and voter education, political party and media reform, policy innovation, and an embracing of democracy and elections.” Groups that appear hostile to elections and willing to disregard the choices voters have made will have a difficult time competing for the votes of those same people in future elections. This makes the current attempt to stall elections in all likelihood counterproductive to the long-term goals of the protesters that claim to want to quickly return to electoral politics after the reform process.

To return Thailand to some degree of democratic normalcy in the medium term, ANFREL hopes that all parties can come to an agreement about an inclusive reform process that recognises the irreplaceable role that elections hold in a democracy. It is therefore vital for all sides to come together to find a solution amenable to all sides. More immediately however, all groups must respect a person’s right to participate in an election and should immediately stop iterfering with voters’ rights to take part in the election.

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