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Thai junta opponents criticize new electoral map

Prime Minister Prayuth denies any involvement in boundary redrawing

The international community will pay close attention to Thailand 's general election, provisionally scheduled for Feb. 24, waiting to see if there is a return to democracy.    © Getty Images

BANGKOK -- Opponents of Thailand's ruling junta have reacted angrily to a new electoral map unveiled by the Election Commission on on Thursday, with many criticizing the timing of its publication as the country prepares for next year's general elections. 

A much anticipated vote is provisionally scheduled for Feb. 24.

"It is a clear flag that this election will not be free and fair," said Jaturon Chaisang, an influential member of the Thai Raksa Chart Party. "It is a stain of the Election Commission."

Founded by the family of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, two former prime ministers, Thai Raksa Chart and its main ally Pheu Thai form the core of the opposition to the junta.

"The Election Commission does not care about people's feelings," said Jaturon. "One district was divided into four constituencies. How should people find who to represent them, when they have problems?"

While he did not specify the district he was referring to, it is likely to be in the hotly contested northern province of Sukhothai.

Sampan Thangbenjapol, a former member of parliament for Sukhothai from the Democrat Party, also criticized the new map. "It is just the start [of the election] and already there is this lack of transparency," he wrote on his Facebook page. He called on supporters and the general public to stand up to the regime at the polls.

Thailand's electoral boundaries had to be redrawn after the provisional constitution introduced by the junta reduced number of the Lower House constituencies from 375 to 350. The map was published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette.

The number of constituencies was reduced evenly throughout the country. Bangkok now has 30 seats, down from 33. The number in the northern province of Chang Mai, a Pheu Thai stronghold, was reduced from 10 to nine, while that in the mainly democrat-supporting Nakhon Si Thammarat, a province in the South, went from nine to eight. 

The plan was originally due by mid-November, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha issued an order giving the Election Commission until Dec. 11, the day the lower house election bills come in to effect. The move sparked concerns over potential gerrymandering among the anti-junta parties and a nongovernmental electoral watchdog.

Prayuth, however, said the junta "did not do the constituency map," and denied any involvement on Friday.

"When you get constituencies you want, it's all good. When you do not get what you want, you complain," he said. "What is happening is all normal."

Some small parties like the Bhumjaithai Party felt the plan was acceptable. A Chart Thai Pattana representative voiced appreciation for the Election Commission having drawn up the new map ahead of the new deadline.

Complaints regarding the new boundaries can be filed with the Administrative Court.

The international community will be keeping a close eye on Thailand in the run-up to and during the election.

"What we've seen in Thailand over several years is the ability to withstand political shocks and navigate through them," said Moody's analyst Matthew Circosta. Moody's Investors Service ranks the country at Baa1 level, its 8th-highest rating. 

"The risk around the election would be if we see some backsliding to the implementation of reforms, which is important in addressing some of Thailand's structural constraints such as competitiveness."

The redrawing of the electoral map is one of many potential risks surrounding the vote.

There may be a move questioning its legitimacy, and any political vacuum caused by post-election negotiations could have repercussions for the Thai economy. 

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