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Politics

Thai Election Commission and junta clash over foreign monitors

EU interested in observing but ministers say process is already well-honed

A disabled lady casts her vote in a referendum on the draft constitution in Bangkok on Aug. 7, 2016.   © Reuters

BANGKOK -- Thailand's Election Commission has voiced support for foreign observers to monitor the long-awaited general election scheduled for Feb. 24, although some quarters of the government still object to the idea. 

Ittiporn Boonpracong, president of the authority, said on Wednesday that election commissioners had agreed in principle to allow international monitors. Ittiporn, a former career diplomat, pointed to the fact that Thailand had allowed foreign election observers since 2003.

The upcoming election will be the first democratic one since 2014 when the military seized power in a coup. For Thailand, it is important to regain its reputation as an open and transparent country as Southeast Asia's second largest economy.

It is also especially crucial in 2019 as Thailand is hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings as chair.

But some junta cabinet members remain resistant to the idea of foreign observers. "We are experienced and the process is already transparent," said Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai on Wednesday. He said that Thailand was not new to democratic elections and did not need foreign observers to monitor the process.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon echoed Don's view by saying that there was no need for foreign observers as Thailand had its own election regulator.

Ittiporn, however, said the ministers' words have no sway over the commission's decision. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday that the decision to invite foreign observers must be left entirely to the commission.

The European Union has shown an interest in monitoring the election, Ittiporn said. No formal offer has yet been made, as the Thai king still needs to give the royal decree on Jan. 2 to make the election official.

General elections in Thailand have a history of foul play. The poll in 2014 was ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court, as protesters interfered with the voting process. Months of protests eventually led to the coup.

Prayuth had, nonetheless, promised the general public that the upcoming election would be free and fair.

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