Thaksin supporters face disqualification

 Times Online

From Times Online

January 4, 2008

Richard Lloyd Parry

A fortnight after victory in Thailand’s general elections, the political supporters of the deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, are in danger of being disqualified from government in a legal coup by the military backed political establishment.

The People Power Party, which was on course to form a coalition government later this month, is threatened with dissolution, because of its close links to Mr Thaksin. Scores of its victorious candidates face disqualification because of allegations of vote buying which, if upheld, could hand power to the opposition.

The legal drama adds to the conviction among Mr Thaksin’s supporters that their victory is being undermined by the machinations of the military, who deposed the then prime minister in a bloodless coup in September 2006. In 16 months of military backed rule they barred Mr Thaksin and 110 of his senior lieutenants from politics and rewrote the constitution to make it difficult for any future leader to dominate politics as he had.

Despite this the PPP, a successor to Mr Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, won 233 of the 480 parliamentary seats. With the co-operation of two smaller parties they had secured at least 254 seats, enough to form a working government.

But now they face investigation by the Electoral Commission which adjudicates allegations of corruption – and whose members were also appointed by the military-backed government. Out of 83 successful candidates under investigation, 65 are from the PPP.

If half of these allegations are upheld it will be very difficult for the PPP leader, Samak Sundaravej, to form a government.

Even more serious is a complaint to the Supreme Court by the Democrat Party, the runner up in the election. It alleges that the PPP is a “nominee” Mr Thaksin, an allegation which could lead to the party’s dissolution. “They are trying hard to topple us by asking the court to void the election,” Mr Samak said this week. “There are many obstacles in politics because of the invisible and dirty hand.”

On the face of it, the last accusation appears difficult to dispute. During their campaign rallies, PPP leaders invoked Mr Thaksin’s name repeatedly, emphasising their intention of continuing his policies as prime minister – a brutal police crackdown on real and imagined drug traffickers, and public spending on health and credit plans to benefit the rural poor.

Asked if he had any policy difference with Mr Thaksin, Mr Samak told The Times: “Thaksin proposes adding ten new lines to the Bangkok mass transit system. I propose only nine.” A Democrat Party official, Virat Kalayasiri, said: “The TRT and the PPP also use the same office building and have the same staff. If we were not confident, we would not have lodged the petition.”

The allegations of electoral malpractice mostly concern corruption and the disbursement of cash, favours and entertainment in return for votes. One PPP candidate was accused of handing out Viagra to elderly male voters.

Several of the cases concern a video CD of a speech by Mr Thaksin, recorded from his self-imposed exile in London where has occupied himself as the new proprietor of Manchester City Football Club. Because he is barred from politics for five years, any candidate who uses him as part of their campaign also breaches election regulations. If a victorious candidate is pronounced guilty by the Election Commission, they will be stripped of their seat, barred form politics for a year, and a by-election will be held.

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