- 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)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.
See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)
Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases
Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.
Cases Going Up
The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.
At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.
Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.
Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.
Doubts About Government Response
The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”
However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.
“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.
He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.
Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.