- Thailand held its first election since its most recent military coup in 2014.
- The Pheu Thai Party won the most seats in the lower house of Parliament, while the PPRP won the popular vote, but both have declared themselves victorious.
- Several individuals and organizations have accused the military-backed Election Commission of fraudulent behavior.
How Does Thailand’s Election Work?
Preliminary election results were released in Thailand, resulting in two parties declaring victory, and claiming the right to form a coalition with other parties in the government.
Sunday’s elections were the first since the most recent coup by the military junta in 2014, the twelfth of which since the 1930’s. It is also the first under the country’s new constitution, unveiled in 2017, which was criticized for being made to keep the military party, Palang Pracharath (PPRP), in power.
In Thailand, people don’t vote for the Prime Minister directly. They vote for a section of the parliament seats.
Parliament has 750 seats in total. Of those seats, 500 are elected, and make up the lower house. Then of those 500, 350 come from direct votes. The remaining 150 are chosen by proportional party lists.
The other 250 seats are part of the upper house, which are appointed by the military. The two houses then vote for the Prime Minister.
376 votes are needed to elect a prime minister, and assuming the military-appointed members vote for the PPRP candidate, the party already has 250 locked votes. Which means they only need 126 out of the 500 seats in the lower house to elect a Prime Minister, making it difficult for another party to rise to power.
The PPRP is currently in power right now, with Prayuth Chan-ocha as Prime Minister. There are several political parties in Thailand, but the Phue Thai is the other large one, and was the party ousted back in 2014. Two of its most recent leaders, siblings Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra, are currently in a self-imposed exile, as they face charges in Thailand on abuse of power. The Pheu Thai candidate for Prime Minister is Thaskin ally Sudarat Keyuraphan.
Who Won the Election?
Election results were delayed several times by the Election Commission of Thailand. The EC was initially supposed to release preliminary results Sunday night, but delayed until Monday afternoon. They also only released the 350 directly-elected seats, and will not release the other 150 until Friday. An official count will be released in May.
Currently, the Pheu Thai party has 137 seats, while the PPRP got 97. The Bhumjaithai party, which aligns with neither, came in third place with 39. The Democratic party, which has only said it does not align with Pheu Thai, collected 33 seats. A new party, Future Forward, which primarily attracted younger voters and leans anti-military, got 30 seats.
However, both the Pheu Thai and PPRP are declaring victory. While Pheu Thai has more seats, PPRP won more popular votes. Both parties claim that they have the right to form coalitions with other parties in the government to take a majority.
Pheu Thai says they are already doing this, and projects that they will hold command of the lower house.
“Parties in the democratic front gained the most trust from the people,” Sudarat Keyuraphan said in a press conference. “Although right now numbers are still moving, we’re certain we will have at least 255 seats among ourselves. We declare that the democratic front who opposes military rule commands the majority in the House.”
The 255 seats is not enough for them to elect a Prime Minister, so the PPRP would still likely get to control that. However, having a stronghold in the lower house does it make it more difficult for the party to govern.
Accusations Against the Election Commission
The EC, which is appointed by the military, is also facing accusations of election fraud. The Asian Network for Free elections released a statement calling the tabulation process “deeply flawed.” They also claimed there were 1.9 million invalid ballots.
Thaskin Shinawatra wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled The Election in Thailand Was Rigged.
“In some areas, the number of ballots seemed to exceed the number of voters,” he wrote. “In others, voter turnout was reported to be 200 percent…There also were reports that some ballots, although marked improperly, were counted as votes for Palang Pracharat, the military’s proxy party.”
Other issues in the election included counting ballots from abroad. The EC confirmed that over 1,500 ballots from New Zealand will not count because they were not delivered in time. A former leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, Tida Tawornset, is demanding a recount. Tawronset says that volunteers at polling places saw people turned away, and other concerning behavior from election workers.
The EC defends their vote count, and says any inconsistencies in the reports were the media’s fault.
“It’s the media organisations themselves which applied the data and presented it in graphics,” the commission’s Deputy Secretary-General told reporters. “If you noticed last night, each channel reported the data differently and that depends on each outlet’s ability.”
See What Others Are Saying: (Bangkok Post) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
India’s High Court Rules Groping Child Through Clothing Is Not Sexual Assault
- An Indian appeals court judge drew widespread outrage last week after ruling that groping a child over their clothes does not constitute sexual assault since there is no “skin-on-skin” contact.
- Activists and rights lawyers pointed out that nowhere in the 2012 Protection of Children From Sexual Offenses Act does it state that skin-on-skin contact is required for a sexual assault charge.
- Since a High Court made the decision, many are concerned that it makes the “skin-on-skin” requirement a precedent that other Indian courts need to heavily consider when ruling on cases.
- Supreme Court lawyers and the National Commission for Women are now petitioning the Supreme Court to review and reject the decision.
Judge Rules Sexual Assault Needs Skin-on-Skin Contact
In an extremely controversial decision last week, Bombay High Court judge Pushpa Ganediwala ruled that groping a child over their clothes does not constitute sexual assault
The case started in 2016 when a 39-year-old man groped a 12-year-old girl’s chest and attempted to forcibly remove her underwear. He was found guilty of sexual assault by a lower court and sentenced to three years in prison. He later appealed the decision where it ended up in Judge Ganediwala’s appeals court.
Judge Ganediwala came to her decision by writing that the incident didn’t feature any “skin-on-skin” contact, meaning it failed to achieve the statutory requirements for sexual assault. While she acquitted the man of his sexual assault charge, she did find him guilty of molestation and sentenced him to one year in prison.
Challenging the Ruling
The ruling was met with extreme backlash by activists and rights lawyers all across India. Their largest point of contention is that nowhere in the 2012 Protection of Children From Sexual Offenses Act does it state that skin-on-skin contact is required. Beyond obvious and overt sexual acts, only intending to commit an act is enough to meet the statute.
Adding to their concerns is the prominence of the court. The High Court is about the equivalent of a U.S. District Appeals Court, meaning that it has the power to set a precedent. Like in the U.S., precedence plays an important factor in deciding cases and can often act as a way to clarify laws. Judge Ganediwala’s decision effectively makes the “skin-on-skin” metric the rule when deciding future sexual assault cases.
That requirement may be relatively short-lived. Lawyers from India’s Supreme Court Bar, as well as officials and lawyers from the National Commission for Women, are petitioning the Supreme Court to review and reject the decision. It’s unclear what exactly will happen at this time, but for many, the decision touches on a large issue in India: sex crimes.
The country has long struggled with sexual assaults against women and minors, with many thinking the laws and punishments are too lax against perpetrators.
The issue is so prevalent that in 2018, official figures showed that the rape of a woman was reported every 16 minutes.
See what others are saying: (Times of India) (CNN) (CBS NEWS)
Wealthy Canadian Couple Posed as Motel Workers To Jump Vaccine Queue
- Rodney Baker, the CEO of a Canadian casino company, resigned this week after he and his wife were caught traveling to a remote area in Yukon that is home to many indigenous people to jump the coronavirus vaccine queue.
- The two allegedly posed as motel workers and were given the first dose of the vaccine but raised suspicions when they asked to be taken straight to the airport immediately afterward.
- Both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declarations, adding up to $1,150 each.
- The White River First Nation is calling for stiffer penalties, saying the small fine would be meaningless to the wealthy duo. For reference, the former CEO was paid a salary of more than $10.6 million in 2019.
Couple Dupes Local Healthcare Workers
Like many other countries, officials in Canada have been working hard to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations. In the Yukon territory specifically, health workers have been giving priority to remote communities with elderly and high-risk populations, as well as limited access to healthcare.
One of those areas is Beaver Creek, which is home to many members of the White River First Nation. However, Beaver Creek is now making headlines after two wealthy Vancouver residents traveled there to jump ahead in the vaccine queue.
The two culprits were identified as 55-year-old Rodney Baker, president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp, and his wife, 32-year-old actress Ekaterina Baker.
They reportedly flew from Vancouver to Whitehouse, then chartered a private plane to the remote community. Afterward, they went to a mobile clinic where they were able to receive the Moderna vaccine after saying they were new hires at a nearby motel.
Their presence raised suspicions given how small the population is in Beaver Creek, but the two raised even more eyebrows when they asked to be taken straight to the airport after receiving their doses.
Workers from the vaccination clinic checked with the motel and alerted law enforcement when they learned that the Bakers had lied about working there.
The couple was stopped just as they were preparing to fly back to their luxury condo in downtown Vancouver. According to CBC, both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declaration, adding up to $1,150 each.
Indigenous Community Responds
“We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes,” the White River First Nation’s Chief Angela Demit said in a Facebook statement addressing the situation.
She also told The Washington Post that she wants to see stiffer penalties for the couple because the relatively small fines would be “essentially meaningless” for such wealthy individuals. For reference, Mr. Baker’s annual compensation in 2019 was reported to be more than $10.6 million.
Janet Vander Meer, the head of the White River First Nation’s coronavirus response team, also called the incident, “another example of ongoing acts of oppression against Indigenous communities by wealthy individuals that thought they would get away with it.”
“Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who’s palliative, was in the same room as this couple,” she told Globalnews.ca. “That’s got to be jail time. I can’t see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It’s just mind-boggling.”
To prevent situations like this in the future, a spokesman for the Yukon government said it would implement new requirements for proving residency in the territory.
As far as the Bakers, Rodney resigned from his role at Great Canadian this week. A spokesperson for the company, which is currently the subject of a separate money-laundering probe, says it “has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values.”
See what others are saying: (CBC) (The Washington Post) (Yukon News)
Protests Erupt Across the Netherlands Over COVID-19 Curfew
- For the third night in a row, Dutch police clashed with protesters and rioters in ten cities across the Netherlands.
- The protests are a result of frustrations over the 9:00 p.m. – 4:30 a.m. curfew the country imposed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
- Rioters looted across major cities and even burned down a coronavirus testing site. So far, 184 people have been arrested and thousands have received fines for their participation.
- The Prime Minister has said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go, but he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.
Violence Over Coronavirus Curfew
The Netherlands faced riots and protests over coronavirus curfews and lockdown measures for the third night in a row.
The protests raged across ten cities, including major ones such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Authorities say that 184 people have been arrested so far, and thousands have received fines for their participation.
Protesters are particularly upset with an ongoing curfew in the country that puts restrictions on travel between 9:00 p.m.- 4:30 a.m.. It’s meant to slow the spread of the virus by preventing nightlife activities; however, critics have questioned just how effective those measures actually are.
Beyond the skepticism, the Netherlands is also facing a spread of misinformation about COVID-19, leading many to downplay how dangerous it is.
Last night’s protests led to violence with police, as well as a COVID-19 testing site being burnt to the ground. Wider Dutch society has been shocked by the violence since protests of this nature are relatively rare in the nation.
Mayors across the country vowed to introduce emergency measures that are intended to help deal with the protests.
Coping With the Virus
Regarding the curfew itself, the government has refused to budge on the issue. When responding to last night’s violence, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go. Still, he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.
The Netherlands had managed to maintain the virus relatively successfully, six months ago, it had among the lowest new daily cases in Europe, with around 42 daily new cases in July. That all changed in September when cases began to rise dramatically, peaking of 11,499 daily new cases on Dec. 24.
Due to the imposed restrictions, cases began to fall again, although they are still far higher than they were in the summer of 2020.