BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Phony Ballots

Although Thailand's late king served for almost fifty years, the Prime Minster (Chuan Leekpai) and a bicameral legislature run the actual government on a day-to-day basis. In addition, the military often has a substantial input into how things are run, and while a number of high-ranking military officers have suddenly risen to become prime ministers, their role for the most part is benevolent. One reason for the military's relative lack of control is the historic practice of "vote buying," in this country which makes the price of high office too rich for the blood of the career officers. However, there are people here that will front the campaign funds for just about anybody that they think can win, because the rewards are so great. It is said that Thailand spends more money on vote buying before an election than any other country on earth. Considering the gross domestic product of the country this seems beyond improbably, maybe they are talking about per capita. However, it is an established fact that no one that achieves high political office in this country fails to become a multi-millionaire. Immediately after the most recent presidential election, there was so much fraud that no one could be certain who had won the election for some time.

“Widespread vote fraud occurred in districts where the winning Thai Rak Thai party in Thailand’s recent general elections secured its biggest gains, a poll watchdog said on Monday. The Independent People’s Network for Elections said it has “solid evidence” of fraud in nearly 100 of the country’s 400 constituencies, mostly in northern and northeastern regions…Thai Rak Thai, meanwhile, put off announcing the composition of its coalition government because of the uncertainty over election results. Announcement of official results have been delayed by protests and fraud allegations. “A flood of complaints, charges and countercharges are arriving at the commission every day. Please wait and give us time to do our Job,” said Sawat Chotipanich, an Election Commissioner. . General Saiyud Kerdpol, the People’s Network for Election chairman, said fraud was recorded in about 40 constituencies in the northeastern region, at least two dozen constituencies in northern provinces and 10 constituencies in the central provinces.”[90]

It is said that in Thailand, one can recoup the cost of an election, no matter how expensive, in merely four months. Moreover, this isn’t taxable income to the recipient. A deal is worked out in advance with the selected candidate for Prime Minister that they will become his agent and that those that have contributed mightily to his election will become his bagmen and all proceeds will go through this contrivance. It sounds a tad more like the way the Mafia operates than politics, but this is the Pacific Rim where anything goes.

When you consider that the bureaucracy in Thailand is such that nothing happens here without a payoff, you can see that it doesn’t take very long to make up for the money spent on an election. Historically, these deals have always been honored by the office holders and in reality, the people would think less of the government if they don’t keep their collective word. This is what “face” is about in this region.

In order to insure victory, local ward healers are purchased, people are transported to vote in outlying districts, even though they do not appear on the polling records. Moreover, as with other places in the region, people that have been long dead have also become regulars at the polling place and amazingly, all people that are critically ill and unmovable in local hospitals have somehow been able to get to the polling place and make their mark.

As people start to line up in the morning, people with lots of cash are poised to buy their vote as they entire the booth. This is done in a rather sophisticated manner. The first voter in takes his ballot, goes into the booth and comes out without voting. He hands the unmarked ballot to the local political hack that is doing the bribing. The hack then fills out the ballot exactly the way he wants it voted and gives it filled out to the next person in line, while that person gives him back the blank ballot he had been given by voting officials. Thus, very often in Thai polling places, an entire city can wind up voting exactly the same way, down to the most obscure candidate on the ticket, however, no one seems to care one way or the other.

While there are police patrolling the polls on election day, they are easily as bribable as anyone else and there is never a problem from that front. Usually the process becomes mechanical and the voters have been through it for years. The money they get comes in very handy and in their view, all politicians lie, so one liar is as good or bad as another and at least they are getting a monetary consideration for their vote. Thailand is indeed a very structured place. When you look at it, they might well have the right idea.



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