Out of 17 northeastern provinces in the region, which has over 17 million eligible voters, 14 provinces saw a higher number of “no” votes, bringing the overall percentage of “no” votes to 51 while the percentage of “yes” votes stood at 48.
Although influential northeastern politicians may be reluctant to claim the region’s referendum vote result as a victory, given the small margin between the “yes” and “no” votes, the voice of the people voting against the draft charter does have a significant impact on those in power, according to experts.
When it comes to voting, most of the people in the Northeast normally retain firm affiliations to the politicians influential in their areas, noted Jittrakorn Po-ngam, vice-rector for administration of Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University.
That explained all but three of the provinces in the region voted against the draft charter, he said, adding that the Pheu Thai Party has been keeping a tight grip on these provinces.
Nakhon Ratchasima was among the exceptions because it is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s hometown, as is Buri Ram, the political stronghold of the political powerhouse led by former Bhumjaithai Party key figure Newin Chidchob, who has long been an opponent of Pheu Thai.
Nakhon Ratchasima province reported a large margin of “yes” votes, at 64 per cent.
And it was no surprise to see more “yes” votes in Ubon Ratchathani where Pheu Thai does not have total political control, he said.
To many voters in the Northeast, the economic hardship and the way the government is dealing with it also played a crucial role in voters’ decisions to reject the draft charter, according to Mr Jittrakorn.
Even though the referendum vote result in the Northeast may not be enough to be claimed as a victory by any side, it has a significant impact on society, he said.
“So, if the government intends to reach out to people and extend the hand of national reconciliation, it cannot deny the fact there still are groups of people in the Northeast who don’t understand what the government is doing. Northeastern people want the PM to listen to them,” said Mr Jittrakorn.
As for the 48% of “yes” votes in the region, Mr Jittrakorn believed this group of voters accepted the draft charter mainly because they thought they would still be under military rule no matter how they voted.
So they thought it should be safer for them to vote “yes” to avoid any possible difficulties or problems for the country and themselves that might arise if the charter was voted down, he said.
Another significant factor leading to the minority “yes” vote was the success of the government’s deployment of volunteers who went into communities to “improve people’s understanding” of the draft charter.
Voters were told that if the charter passed, an election would come sooner.
Mr Jittrakorn, however, admitted the popularity of Gen Prayut has probably been on the rise as well thanks to his down-to-earth personality and the way he communicates with the public which the northeastern people find easy to understand.
Isan people do not like complicated messages, said Mr Jittrakorn.
“They [the majority of northeastern voters] still have a political preference for Pheu Thai. They are still big fans of this party,” said Wanida Sangsarapun, a law lecturer with Khon Kaen University.
The Sunday vote result was not much different from the 2007 referendum, she said, adding that voters were still manipulated by local influential figures.
She agreed the role of volunteers “educating” voters about the referendum and the draft charter was a key factor contributing to the “yes” vote in the region.
The large overall proportion of “no” votes in Udon Thani came as a result of the strong influence of Pheu Thai from supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
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