By Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Juarawee Kittisilpa
BANGKOK (Reuters) – The run-up to Thailand’s weekend vote was “heavily tilted” to benefit a party close to the ruling military junta, an Asian election monitor said on Tuesday, and criticized a messy ballot-counting process that created mistrust.
Persistent confusion about results two days after Sunday’s vote have diminished hopes that the first election since a 2014 military coup would end nearly 15 years of political turmoil in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
The Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) stopped short of declaring outright fraud in the election, in which both a pro-junta party and an opposition party linked to a self-exiled former premier have claimed victory.
“The environment at large is heavily tilted to benefit the military junta,” Amaël Vier, an official of the civil society group that seeks to promote democratic elections, told a news briefing.
“A lot of people still express distrust towards the electoral process.”
Asked if the election had been free and fair, another ANFREL official declined to comment directly, however.
“So many things have to be considered together,” said its mission head, Rohana Nishanta Hettiarachchie. “It is unfair to conclude that the whole process was free and fair or not.”
Thailand’s Election Commission was not immediately available for comment. It has previously declined to comment on accusations of cheating.
With only partial results reported, the party backing junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has said it is gathering coalition partners to form a government.
But the main opposition Pheu Thai party, loyal to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has alleged “irregularities”, and is considering legal challenges, while also saying it is putting together a coalition government.
It could be days or even weeks before it is clear whether either Prayuth’s party or the “democratic front” has won enough seats to form a stable government.
Unofficial results for 350 directly elected “constituency seats” in the House of Representatives released on Monday by the Election Commission showed Pheu Thai leading with 137 seats, versus 97 seats for Prayuth’s party.
But official results, including 150 more “party seats”, would not be available until May 9, the election body said.
A fuller picture could emerge on Friday, when the election commission releases vote totals for each constituency, used to determine the allocation of party seats, in a complex formula. [nL3N21D0RN]
Even before May 9, but parties are making their own calculations on the basis of partial results and seeking coalition partners to form a government.
The commission has blamed delays and irregularities in early partial results on “human error.”
Junta leader Prayuth, who as army chief seized power in 2014, is expected to speak later on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting.
Since 2004, Thailand has been racked by street protests organised by both opponents and supporters of Thaksin, occasionally spilling into violence.
Parties linked to Thaksin have won every election since 2001, but the populist telecoms billionaire was thrown out by the army in 2006, and a government led by his sister was ousted in 2014.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)