UPDATE: On March 28, the ECT released the full preliminary election results [Download pfd file]. National voter turnout now stands at 74.69 percent. 

NONG KHAI – In first election since the coup in 2014, Isaan voters widely rejected military rule and handed Pheu Thai Party a strong mandate, based on unofficial results.

More than 17.2 million people in the region, roughly a third of the electorate, were called to the polls on Sunday. About 63 percent came out to cast their ballot, a turnout much lower than expected. National turnout stands at 66 percent, a stark contrast to the predicted figure of over 90 percent.

Pheu Thai Party missed a landslide victory as in 2011 but grabbed a strong majority of the 116 seats in the Northeast. Ruling at the ballot box in 84 constituencies, the party commands 72 percent of the seats in the region.

Bhumjai Thai Party came in second with 16 seats, followed by the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party with 11 seats. The Democrat Party won two seats in Ubon Ratchathani. Future Forward Party took only one seat in Khon Kaen.

The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) did not announce any results at a press conference on Sunday night. President of the ECT, Ittiporn Boonpracong, said more information would be given today. Official results are expected for May 9.

But in a surprising development, Palang Pracharat Party took an early lead, ahead of Pheu Thai Party, according to preliminary results.

By noon many polling stations across the region reported that more than half of the registered voters had already cast their vote.

As matters stand, voting went generally smoothly in the region, however, a few problems were reported.

Chandanie Watawala, director of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), told The Isaan Record that none of the group’s observers reported any irregularities. But the monitoring group was only able to deploy 34 observers nationwide, including five in the Northeast. ANFREL monitors were on the ground in Khon Kaen, Nakhon Phanom, Roi Et, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani.

Pornpirun Saengsaen, an election observer with the local watchdog group “We Watch,” said that officials did not inform voters that candidates of the Thai Raksa Chat Part were no longer running. At many polling stations, the party still appeared on the list of candidates, although it was dissolved in early March.

In Loei Province, officials prevented election monitors from observing the vote counting, Ms. Pornpirun said.

At a polling station in Maha Sarakham’s Constituency 5, election officials told a woman that her voting right had already been used in the advance poll a week earlier. According to We Watch, the woman had not registered for early voting.

In a similar case, one man was banned from voting in Ubon Ratchathani Constituency 6 as someone had already cast a vote in his name, according to a report by Matichon. He filed a complaint with the police.

Laddawan Tantivitayapitak, vice president of People’s Election Network (P-Net), expressed concerns about irregularities reported by the organization’s 600 observers. “This can become very serious. If it happened in many polling stations, it won’t be just small mistakes,” she told Khao Sod English.

In Nong Khai’s Constituency 2, election officials counted the vote in front of a large crowd of citizen observers. But at other polling stations the vote counting process was less transparent, according to the We Watch monitoring group.

Some voters in the Northeast were surprised to find that voting process had changed since the last election and new rules had been introduced under the military government.

“This time around there have been so many changes to the rules which haven’t been adequately publicised,” said Pramote Saenharn, a 63-year-old retired civil servant who voted in Khon Kaen’s Constituency 2. “There hasn’t been enough voter education. It’s been very confusing for some.”

In Nakhon Phanom, elder voters who were not familiar with the voting process did not receive any assistance from polling station staff, said Suphakit Chanthaphong, an election observer with We Watch.

The ECT reported that nationwide about 5.6 percent of the ballots were invalid and 1.5 percent were cast blank. This means that 2.39 million ballots were either spoiled or no votes. Voter turnout stood at 65.96 percent with about 51.2 million eligible voters. In the 2011 election, there were almost 5.5 million invalid ballots and about 2.37 million no votes.

Photos by Mike Eckel. Reporting from Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Nakhon Phanom and Nong Khai by The Isaan Record.