By En-Lai Yeoh
Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) — Thailand’s military-backed government is abusing laws to prevent ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra from influencing the Dec. 23 election, and is targeting his supporters, Human Rights Watch said.
Authorities have “used martial law to justify the repression of Thaksin’s political allies” in a clear abuse of rights, the New York-based organization said today in an e-mailed statement.
Thailand’s 45 million eligible voters head to the polls Dec. 23 to elect a government to replace a military-installed administration. Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless coup in September last year amid allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
“The military’s efforts to restrict the campaign activities of Thaksin’s allies should be of concern to all political parties,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s not a matter of human rights taking a backseat in the Thai elections, they are not even present,” he said, according to the statement.
The report, released today, comes after the People Power Party, formed by Thaksin allies from his former Thai Rak Thai party, was alleged to have violated election laws. The army- backed Election Commission has reported the alleged abuse to the police and the party faces other complaints, the English-language Bangkok Post reported today.
“We denied that allegation,” said Kudeb Saikrajang, spokesman for the PPP. “Our legal team is preparing to fight this in court.”
There are about 250 former Thai Rak Thai executives in the new PPP.
“It’s PPP versus the rest, really,” said Michael Montesano, a political analyst at the National University of Singapore. “The military has to be seen as being part of a network that is pressuring the PPP not to form the new government,” he said.
Martial law remains in force in 31 provinces in the north and northeast, Human Rights Watch said. “Most of these areas are Thaksin strongholds,” the group said.
“We are facing all kinds of tricks from the military and government officials to do everything to prevent PPP candidates from winning the election,” said PPP spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang. “I hope that the statement of Human Rights Watch will stop them from this kind of actions.”
Tight controls have been imposed in the lead-up to the vote, unlike in previous campaigns. Campaigning by non-candidates is restricted. Parades are no longer allowed.
Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has said the rules apply to all and don’t target the PPP.
“The PPP presents a direct challenge to the military-backed government and it isn’t shy in saying so,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, the director of Bangkok’s Institute of Security and International Studies, in an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal Asian edition. “If this party wins the vote, as polls suggest it might, the country could be plunged into political turmoil.”
Thailand hasn’t had an elected administration since Thaksin dissolved parliament in February 2006 to call a poll that was later annulled.
Thai Rak Thai won two elections under Thaksin’s leadership. It won a record 377 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives in the last poll, in February 2005.
To contact the reporter on this story: En-Lai Yeoh at email@example.com
Last Updated: December 12, 2007 01:53 EST
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