- 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)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”