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Monkeys and Small Children Have Thai Officials on High Alert Ahead of Referendum

Thai authorities are cracking down on mischief makers ahead of an Aug. 7 referendum vote.

HUA HIN, THAILAND - 2012/12/28: Macaque Monkey and the Gulf of Thailand at Khao Takiab, at the southern end of Hua Hin beach. The hill is also know as Monkey Mountain thanks to the large numbers of macaques monkeys that live there. (Photo by John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HUA HIN, THAILAND - 2012/12/28: Macaque Monkey and the Gulf of Thailand at Khao Takiab, at the southern end of Hua Hin beach. The hill is also know as Monkey Mountain thanks to the large numbers of macaques monkeys that live there. (Photo by John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This weekend, Thai police charged two 8-year-old girls with destroying public property and obstructing the process leading up to an Aug. 7 referendum vote that will determine whether or not the country adopts a controversial military-backed draft constitution.

Their crime? Ripping down posted voter lists because they were printed on pink paper.

“They confessed to tearing down the voter lists because they liked the color pink,” Damrong Phetpong, police commander in the northern province of Kamphaeng Phet, told Reuters.

Due to their young age, the schoolgirls will not face disciplinary action. But they aren’t the only ones who inadvertently tampered with the controversial referendum vote.

Some 100 monkeys then raided a polling place in northern Thailand and went after the voter lists as well, destroying piles of them.

“For some reason they were being very naughty and started tearing up the lists,” Phichit district official Surachai Maneeprakorn told the Associated Press on Monday.

A large population of macaques live at a nearby Buddhist temple, and since their raid on the polling place, officials have had to come up with a plan to keep them from launching another disruptive attack.

Their plan is to deter the animals by setting up distracting piles of fruit away from the actual polling place. And just in case that isn’t enough, special glass doors have been installed around the lists in order to keep them out.

“The glass cases should deter the monkeys, but if they’re smart enough to find a way to open the glass door, that will be problematic,” said local election Prayoon Jakkraphatcharakul. “There were only a couple of lists left on the board by the time the police got there. Some of the monkeys were still even holding onto the papers.”

But if young children and monkeys are some of the biggest hurdles ahead of this referendum, Thai officials will be lucky. The military junta has been accused of intimidating those opposed to the referendum, and in April, the army was given power to arrest and detain — and in some cases search properties without a warrant.

They had a chance to exercise those rights on some easy targets this week.  

Photo credit: John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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