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Nine arrested in Thailand for posting election ‘fake news’

BANGKOK, Thailand — Nine people have been arrested in Thailand for spreading “fake news” on Facebook with posts about sacked election officials and bogus ballots in the wake of controversial polls in the kingdom.

Junta-ruled Thailand held its first vote since a 2014 coup on Sunday, with a military-backed party and its main rival linked to a self-exiled billionaire both claiming the right to govern.

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Fully ratified results will not be confirmed for weeks but questions are mounting over election irregularities that may have skewed initial numbers.

A Thai official said Thursday that nine people were arrested for sharing fake news on Facebook claiming two election commissioners had been sacked and that 600,000 illegitimate ballots were mixed into the vote count.

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They were charged Wednesday under the draconian Computer Crimes Act “for sharing or onpassing false information”, said Siriwat Deephor, a spokesman for the Computer Crime Suppression Division Police.

“They confessed and said they didn’t know that it was fake news,” he added.

The accused face up to five years in jail and a $3,100 fine.

Rights groups say the Computer Crimes law provides broad powers to crack down on online content and to target regime critics.

The head of the millennial-friendly Future Forward Party, poised to become Thailand’s third largest faction, was accused of violating the act after a Facebook live broadcast criticised the junta last year.

A decision on whether to indict him and two other party members has been delayed until April.

Stacked deck

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Confusion is swirling in the aftermath of the vote as the Election Commission has staggered the release of results and published inconsistent tallies.

The latest figures released Thursday after 100 percent of the popular vote was counted show the military-aligned Phalang Pracharat party leading with more than 8.4 million ballots.

Its main rival Pheu Thai, the party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was trailing with 7.9 million votes.

More than 2.1 million votes have been deemed invalid, the commission said without offering an explanation.

The confirmed number of parliamentary seats for each party may not be confirmed for several weeks, with a final tally expected to be finalised by May 9.

In order to appoint a prime minister, the winning party must clinch more than half of the 750 seats in the combined lower and upper houses.

But all 250 seats in the upper house are military-appointed thanks to a charter passed by the junta, meaning non-aligned parties need an avalanche of votes to control the government.

Pheu Thai formed an anti-junta coalition with six other parties on Wednesday in a bid to thwart military-aligned factions.

The seven-member bloc claimed to hold 255 seats — more than half the lower house — and the right to form a government, though final results may not be confirmed until May 9.

But observers say they will not likely have enough seats to stunt a junta-backed alliance with the balance of power stacked in the military’s favor. /ee

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