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Instability looms in the wake of questionable Thai poll

Doubt, deadlock and instability loom large over the post-election landscape in Thailand.

People queue up to vote at a polling station during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019.

People queue up to vote at a polling station during the general election in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019.

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Doubt, deadlock and instability loom large over the post-election landscape in Thailand.

The biggest question following the much-anticipated Sunday (March 24) poll is whether the election was really free and fair.

The Election Commission (EC), as the poll organiser and supposedly independent referee, has found itself in a tight spot.

The hashtags #ElectionCheat2019, #TheFumblingEC and #ECHasNoCalculators were trending on Twitter on Monday.

Netizens swarmed onto social media to raise questions about alleged election irregularities and the EC's integrity and independence.

Among the thousands of posts were questions about why some 1,500 ballot papers from New Zealand should be declared invalid for arriving late as there was obviously no fault on the voters' part, allegations that there were more ballots in some constituencies than the number of eligible voters and the rather unusually high number of invalid ballots at almost two million.

It's also very peculiar that the EC chief decided to end his press briefing about the poll's unofficial results on Sunday night abruptly after giving the media only a few numbers.

When asked about the number of party-list MPs, the EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong simply told the media to work it out for themselves as he had no calculators.

The alleged irregularities and EC's repeated fumbles resulted in a petition on to assemble 20,000 people to start a constitutional process to remove the EC. It had drawn more than 200,000 signatures by Monday.

The EC's poor performance is a direct risk to the validity of the election. If the commission were somehow found to be faulty at its job, would the poll be nullified?

The cleanliness of the votes aside, the size of the win by each major party is another problematic factor. The math, when mixed with ideological standpoints, is making for a tricky calculation.

At this point, the dividing line is between the military-friendly camp led by Palang Pracharath and so-called pro-democracy one led by Pheu Thai aligned to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The problem is there is no clear majority nor political legitimacy from the election results.

Pheu Thai may have won the most constituency seats at 135 but Palang Pracharath, which came second at 98, did garner more votes at 7.9 million.

The democratic tradition may dictate that the party that won the most seats should have the right to set up the government first. But in this case of fragmented triumphs, the Palang Pracharath has declared that whoever can gather enough MPs first can make an attempt to form a government.

The numbers game is complicated by the ideological standpoint. Apart from the Bhumjaithai Party, which has indicated all along that it does not mind crossing the democracy-dictatorship line, most other parties are locked in place.

Pheu Thai and Democrats, for example, have ruled out forming a government together. Future Forward is adamant about opposing a military dictatorship which the Palang Pracharath has come to represent.

Real politics also demands that so-called kingmaker parties like Bhumjaithai or the Democrats, which could make a government out of the coalition they join, will not agree to do so unless it's worth it for them. That would entail a series of hard negotiations. Indeed, intense bargaining and forceful trade-offs can be expected with less than perfect results for all parties involved.

All in all, while it appears that the Palang Pracharath has the edge in gathering MPs to set up a government as it already has the support of 250 senators who are entitled to vote for the next premier, the number of MPs it will control in the House is not overwhelmingly high.

Indeed, a coalition government with such a slight majority could fall anytime there is a major vote or censure debate.

Pheu Thai faces a similar situation after winning the most seats but falling short of a majority. It might be able to put together a bigger coalition with a few more MPs in its camp but the margin would still be fallible.

All in all, the race for the government is looking too close with both camps controlling almost an equal number of supporters while dealing with hard-charging swing votes.

The result will be a dead heat, complete with some controversial moves like one camp drawing renegade individual MPs from the other or some parties swallowing their political ideals for the sake of being in power.

Eventually, an atmosphere of instability will prevail as the new government will run into practical problems putting an eclectic cocktail of policies from various parties into practice as bargaining and conflicts with its coalition partners run in the background.

The stock market dropped more than 20 points on Monday in response to the election results. If that's any indicator of the future, things are not looking bright. BANGKOK POST



Atiya Achakulwisut is a political columnist at Bangkok Post. She joined the Post in 1991 and was previously its deputy editor.


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