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The magic number

The family house is right in the centre of the nearby village. If you imagine a number 8, like you’d see on a digital watch, the house is in the middle of the short middle section. The rest of the lines are the perimeter roads of the village. It really couldn’t be more central.

Across from the house is a small square. On a daily basis it’s where the kids of all ages play volleyball, or older guys have a game of takraw, but by the time we arrived on Sunday most of the village had begun to gather there. It was Election Day, and the results were soon to be known. For the last month or so a convoy of pick-up trucks like the one below have been parading around the neighbouring villages. Unlike this picture each convoy only promotes one candidate, who you’d think didn’t have a name, as the only sound you hear, at volume, is ‘burr neung‘, ‘burr sawn’ or ‘burr saam’. Number 1, number 2 or number 3.

You might think that not being in the village that we’d be saved some of this aural bombardment, but we are in the perfect position to be able to hear the electioneering from three nearby villages. Lucky us. And even while we are in a field, hearing a telephone ring or someone next to you talk is made almost impossible as the number calling reaches unimaginable volumes. I can only guess how loud it is in the villages.

Being new arrivals we aren’t yet registered to vote. I say we, but I mean Hana. But Hana’s mum lives with us and that means a visit from the local candidates.

Only one felt the need to visit, for reasons that will become apparent later, but he did visit 3-4 times for what looked like long in-depth conversations.

Kids being kids, some of the young ones started to mimic the burr of the ‘burr’, and I saw some quickly being corrected on which number they should chant. This was a serious business.

On the day of the election mum-in-law left early to go to the village and vote. She ventured out around 7am and returned home no less than 12 hours later. Word has it that she‘s a local ‘influencer’ and that’s why the candidate, number 2 in another village race, spent so much time with her.

We set off on our 2-3km walk to the family village around 4.30pm, and by the time we arrived the buzz around the the square was building. The older villagers had gathered round the square, grabbing a plastic chair if they could.

Kids were running around, chasing each other and causing chaos. Parents left them to their own devices in an area that wouldn’t pass health and safety standards in the UK. No accidents occurred while I was there.

Younger adults mainly stood on the periphery, drinking a golden colored liquid from half-cut plastic Pepsi bottles. Beer is banned on Election Day, but quite a few people also looked half-cut themselves before the end of the count.

And this is what they’d come to see. Democracy in action, watching a vote count happen in real time.

Two votes were taking place. The village head, announced on the left, and the sub-district vote, announced on the right.

If a UN inspector was here they’d have been impressed how each vote was taken out the the voting box by one person, given to another who would show the mark of choice to the waiting public, before being announced by the lady marking the scores on the large board. As you can see in the video, the announcer was even reprimanded by a member of the gallery for not showing the voting slip clearly. Good transparent elections that welcomed public participation. Job done.

What they wouldn‘t have been seen was the ongoing gambling taking place throughout the count, or the amount of ‘incentives’ that had been distributed during the election campaign.

I’d heard of one incumbent paying 1500 baht to secure each vote in an area a couple of hours north of here, and an hour to the west one friend said his wife had received 500 baht each from number 1 and number 3. She hadn‘t met number 2 when I spoke to him on Saturday night.

Counting carried on after dark and it was clear both number 2s would win our election by the time we left.

The longer the vote went, the noisier and more agitated the crowd become. Mainly due to the gambling outcome I’d guess.

The village winner has a farm just across from us, and a really nice vegetable garden set up. If he can organise the village as well as his garden it will be a good thing.

Number 1 in the sub-district vote didn’t win a single slip. Maybe he didn’t have a budget.

Before counting ended we set off on our way home, just as dark quickly descended.

Mother-in-law was back home when we arrived. She’d spent the last few hours in the other village, which is our village, according to our address.

Her lobbying didn’t work and her number 2 lost. Maybe it wasn’t a lucky number after all.

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