Monday, February 18, 2013

Elections in the 1950s

The book Village life in modern Thailand by John E. DeYoung is a very interesting description of the rural life in Thailand in the 1950s - which at the time of writing the book was the "modern time". A few sections also mention the relationship of the villages to the authorities, like the following on the national election.
A few weeks before an election each district officer instructs the headmen of his village and communes to encourage their villagers to vote; the headmen assemble the villagers, urge them to vote, instruct those who have never voted in how to cast a ballot, and assign a registration number to each person eligible to vote. A registration list is sent by the headman to the local polling place (which is often the nearest primary school), and watchers and checkers are appointed for the polls. On the day before the elections the headman sends his assistant to all households to remind them that the election will take place on the morrow. Thus, even though the villager sees, hears, or reads nothing of the candidates, he is constantly reminded of the election during the several weeks preceding it.

In 1949, in a by-election for assemblyman, 49 per cent of those eligible voted in the village of San Pong — 72 per cent of the eligible males and 25 per cent of the eligible females. None of the candidates visited the village, no campaign literature was distributed, and since they do not read newspapers, few of the villagers had any clear idea of the campaign issues. The villagers made their choice partly on the basis of what the headman and the schoolteacher said about the candidates, partly on the basis of the nearness of the candidate's home town. A man from the closest town, even though he was personally unknown to the villagers, was regarded as a "local" man, a consideration which made him a better choice in the eyes of the villagers than his rivals from more distant parts of the province.

Eligibility to vote consists simply in being older than twenty-one. Since so many adult villagers are illiterate, a technique has been devised to allow those who cannot read and write to vote. Each candidate is assigned a number. These numbers are printed in Thai numerals and also in large dots on perforated paper. When the voter comes to the polls he is told which number corresponds to which candidate; he enters the voting booth, tears off the piece of the ballot which contains the number of dots for his choice, seals this inside an official envelope which is given to him when his name is checked on the registration list by the polling inspectors, and drops it in the ballot box. For his vote to be valid the envelope must be sealed, for Thailand voters enjoy the privilege of secret ballot. [...]
I'll post some more quotes from this book later with other sections on the local administration. The whole book is also available at, apparently already out of copyright. Despite being available online, I have got myself an antiquarian copy - reading it in paper is more comfortable...

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