Thailand election: Many reasons behind low turnout

Though fewer people showed up to cast their vote on Sunday, they deserve to be commended for taking a brave stand

The 46-per-cent turnout by voters in the election on Sunday may seem as though Thais turned their backs on the election and want political reform first - when compared to the 75-per-cent turnout in 2011.

But in reality, these numbers are not final. The Election Commission (EC) revealed yesterday that of the 44.45 million eligible voters, only 20.46 million or about 46 per cent turned up.

However, votes in nine provinces in the South have yet to be tallied, not to mention votes that will be cast later in the 10,000 or so polling stations that could not open on Sunday.

Yet, the clashes between those wishing to cast a vote and those who wanted to stop the poll show that most Thais still prefer a democratic solution.

This year's voter turnout cannot be compared to the 32 million of the 44 million voters who turned up to exercise their political right in 2005, or the 28.99 million who showed up in 2006 or the 35 million who turned up in 2007, because the circumstances are different.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has unofficially concluded that 1,143,667 of 4,369,120 eligible voters in the capital cast votes and that 516 of the city's 6,671 polling stations were forced to close.

In comparison, as many as 3,019,406 Bangkokians, or nearly 72 per cent of the 4.26 million eligible voters in the capital turned out to vote in 2011.

This year's low-voter turnout should be seen in the context of the protests, with the seizure of ballot boxes, blockades at polling stations, uncertainty by the EC over whether the poll should be postponed or cancelled, doubts over whether the Constitutional Court may nullify the poll, and violence over recent months.

These uncertainties explain why the voter turnout in the capital was the lowest in history.

Bangkok is known as a Democrat Party base, as evidenced by the 23 Democrat MPs (versus 10 Pheu Thai MPs) elected in 2011 and a Democrat candidate beating a Pheu Thai candidate during the 2012 city governor's election.

However, this year, many Bangkokians chose to ignore the election because it was boycotted by the Democrats and opposed by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) with their "Bangkok shutdown" campaign.

New phenomena

Another phenomenon emerged in the city this year. Many people were eager to vote and many even took on the job of manning polling stations after some election officials quit on Sunday morning.

EC officials at some polling sites, such as the Phaholyothin 24 polling station in Chatuchak district, quit minutes before ballot boxes were unveiled, prompting a few people queuing to cast a vote to step up and serve as "volunteer EC officials".

Meanwhile, voting in the North and Northeast - key bases of Pheu Thai - went through smoothly with more than 60 per cent showing up in northern provinces like Chiang Mai, Tak , Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao and Lamphun and more than 50 per cent in the Northeast. It was 57 per cent in Chiang Rai,

However, some provinces in the lower North like Phichit, Phitsanulok, Nakhon Sawan and Kamphaeng Phet, where farmers have been holding protests calling for long-overdue payments for rice sold to the government's pledging scheme, saw a voter turnout of less than 50 per cent.

For instance, Constituency 3 in Phichit had a turnout of only 39 per cent, while only 37 per cent showed up at Constituency 4 in Kamphaeng Phet and only 45 per cent showed up in Constituency 5 in Phitsanulok.

In Buri Ram, less than 50 per cent of voters showed up, and it had the largest number of invalid ballots, provincial election committee chairman Pol Colonel Wirat Thadthong said. He said the low turnout could be put down to confusion over political conflicts and uncertainty on whether the poll may be nullified later.

Very different results were recorded in Constituency 1 in Khon Kaen, where a polling station with 850 eligible voters only saw 338 show up, and about a third (124) cast "no votes".

Lamphun EC officials said that 241,209 out of the province's 328,667 eligible voters showed up to cast ballots. There were 60,650 "no votes" and 41,650 invalid ballots.

In the southern border provinces, people clashed with PDRC supporters blocking the Hat Yai Post Office and demanded that ballot boxes be delivered to different polling stations. But in the three southernmost provinces, which are usually plagued by unrest, almost all polling stations operated normally.

Sunday's election was different on several levels, especially as it was organised under a strange context. Yet, those who showed up to cast their ballots should be commended for their bravery.

These people stood up in defiance to support democracy and take the country forward.