Sunday, August 28, 2011

And the Winner Is…

DEMOCRACY! I’m such a sap! A PCV friend eloquently wrote about what she misses in America and that it is the promise of America that she misses. I think I saw that promise today in Thailand, and it gives me hope.
I have watched the local elections for a month, from candidates declaring their intent to run to the election. Thais take this process very seriously and work diligently to avoid the corruption that we hear so much about. There were endless meetings for the candidates, election officials, volunteers, and the villagers. We spent days passing out literature about how to vote and how candidates were to behave. And, the whole campaign is only 1 month…refreshing!
So today, Sunday, was the big day. Eight polling places, one for each village, were open from 8 am to 3 pm. It is expected that if you are 18 years + you will vote. I don’t have the percent, but it is very high. I saw people from out of town who came back just to vote, you have to vote in your village – or at least where your ID card says you are from, which is your village. No voter registration, your ID card (everyone has one from 7 years old) is your ticket to vote. Each polling place has about 15 people working, mostly volunteers from the village.
After all votes are in and returned to the tessabaan office, the voting officially closes. Everything is sent to the provincial capital and from there to Bangkok. There is one month to appeal and for Bangkok to certify the results. That is a new law. Last time there was a local election, Bangkok (i.e. the national government) took 7 months! That means 7 months with no mayor or city council, very hard on local governments.
I was impressed at the inclusiveness of the process, the integrity of the process, and how engaged the community was in the process. Good job Thailand!

This is the group I visited all 8 polling places with from 9 am to 11:30 am. The polls opened at 8 am. Every polling place (EVERY) had an issue. We would arrive and rearrange the police tape, move the ballot boxes, make the observers move, and change what was on the election poster. Amazing process and I think the pu yu baans (village leaders) who were in charge, were not always happy about it!

A group of nuns arriving to vote. You don't see them out and about much.

A line of voters waiting their turn. You will notice the older women are wearing pasins, long Thai cotton skirts. Younger women typically do not wear them out in public. A definite generational shift.

This is when it gets exciting - 3 pm and time to count the ballots! This gentlemen is pulling each ballot out of the ballot box in village 17, my village (8 villages, no numerical order - don't ask). There are about 50 people watching, he announcing what is on the ballot, someone else repeats what he said and marks it on a giant tally sheet. He gives the ballot to another official who punches a hole in it, folds it, and puts it in the correct basket (there are 3 - one for a counted ballot, one for blank ballots, and one for ballots not counted because there is a problem with it). This process takes a couple of hours.

The first sealed ballot box delivered to the tessabaan office. Lots of cheers. The entire staff has been working all weekend for this moment. Everyone already knows who is the new nayoke (phones have been ringing off the hook - if there was one)! It is the previous nayoke, my boss, who is wildly popular. He has won by a land slide. The samachik (council) will take longer to figure out, lots of candidates and the top 6 in each zone (2 zones) win. I left the office at 6:30, when I go in in the morning they will know.

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