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VICE Votes

I Voted For The First Time In Thailand And Felt Like My Voice Didn't Matter

'We were led to believe that this time we could help change the course of the country, that we had the power to create a better future for ourselves, using our voice. Yet once again, they suppressed us.'

by Choltanutkun Tun-atiruj
26 March 2019, 8:35am

An election worker sits next to a ballot box during the general election at a polling station in Bangkok. Photo be Reuters

I am 25 years old and I got to vote for the first time. The minimum age to vote is 18. It took me so long to vote not because I didn't want to, but because I wasn't allowed to.

I had registered to cast my vote a week early on Sunday, March 17, so I could vote in Bangkok where I live, instead of having to travel for hours back to my hometown where my address is registered.

I didn’t know what to expect on early voting day, but was heartened to see that the turnout was immense. I had to queue for at least 20 minutes and even though it was a scorching 36 degrees celsius out, and I barely slept from partying too much the night before, I had no problem with waiting in line. I had already put up with the military government for five years – waiting in the sun for 20 minutes couldn’t hurt me. I could not believe I finally had the chance to vote.

After casting my ballot and seeing the number of people who came out to cast theirs, I was optimistic.

In May 2014, Thailand’s military declared a coup led by army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha. This, after seven months of civil unrest between the Red Shirts – former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s supporters – and Yellow Shirts, or elite royalists. Eight years since our last elections, we were finally able to vote.

What was also encouraging were new faces aside from Prayut and Thaksin’s parties. The new Future Forward Party, led by former student activist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was a welcome addition with their progressive and somewhat controversial policies, new to many conservatives in Thai society. It felt like we were about to experience genuine, democratic elections at long last.

I grew up in a family very interested in politics. As a child, I remember listening to my parents discussing politics during car rides, so it was natural that I got interested in politics too. When I was a teenager, while my dad and I watched the news on TV together, I told him I wanted to be a politician to help people. My dad looked at me and said, “You could definitely try and do that… but you would probably get shot.”

That was the first time I realized that being smart, committed, or highly qualified was far from enough in Thai politics.

There’s this Thai proverb อาบน้ำร้อนมาก่อน which translates to, “I took the hot bath before you,” meaning, they know best because they were born before us. It is often used against us when we try to suggest any new ideas in Thai society. So being able to vote was a big deal. What I and many others my age were most excited about was being able to choose what we want for ourselves for once, instead of having the older generation tell us what they think is best for us.

Election day on March 24 came and I was glued to social media, following every update. Sure, there were countless signs that warned this election could be unfair or unclean, but I was filled with hope. While I knew this election wasn’t going to make Thailand a democratic country overnight —we still have a long way to go – I couldn’t help but hope there would be a plot twist.

Maybe this time we would have an actual government voted by the people. Maybe this time, after five years of living under oppressive “uncles,” we could really say what we wanted without pissing off anyone in power and getting in trouble for it. Maybe this time it would be different.

Unfortunately it wasn’t.

On the evening of the elections, I saw the unofficial result at around 9pm and I broke down, sobbing. The junta’s party appeared to have the most seats in the parliament, amid irregularities and a lack of transparency in the counting. The future that I thought I would be able to help shape felt further away than it ever had been.

I was most angered by the irregularities. While counting the votes on the evening of elections, the Thai Election Commission abruptly stopped after numbers inexplicably varied. They then promised a press conference which they kept delaying, and when they finally did hold one, they announced the number of seats won by each party without showing actual vote counts.

Latest results show that Thaksin’s old colleagues’ party Pheu Thai has since taken the lead. I cannot accept that. Not because they weren’t my top choice, but because I could only respect the victory of anyone—even Prayut— if they were indisputably elected by the people. If the system and the process were transparent and clean.

Now, after the irregularities, my faith in the system has crumbled.

We were led to believe that this time we could help change the course of the country, that we had the power to create a better future for ourselves, using our voice. Yet once again, they suppressed us. Perhaps I am still young and naive, like when I had that conversation with my dad.

Now, I am left with only questions. When will Thailand eventually experience true democracy? What are the real results of the election that we just spent 5.8 billion baht on organizing? How much longer are those in power going to keep choosing what they think is best for everyone?

What will happen to our future?

Editor's Note: This article was previously under an anonymous byline and has since been updated with the author's name.