World News

Thai poll body defers ruling party fraud decision

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) deferred a decision on Tuesday on whether to recommend that the ruling People Power Party (PPP) be disbanded for electoral fraud, saying it needed to investigate further.

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej arrives at the Government House before a news conference in Bangkok July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

“The commission will vote on the issue on September 2,” EC secretary-general Suthipon Thaveechaiyagarn told reporters.

Earlier, the Thai-language Matichon newspaper quoted an EC source as saying the five commissioners were split on the issue, suggesting their ruling would be delayed.

Analysts say the Constitutional Court, which has the final say on the matter, is likely to endorse the EC’s findings, although it may take several months to implement any ruling.

If it rules against the PPP, at least 33 senior party leaders from Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee would automatically lose their jobs and be barred from politics for five years.

The case before the Election Commission stems from the guilty verdict handed down in July against a deputy PPP leader for vote fraud in December’s election. He was also banned from politics for five years.

Under the constitution drawn up by the army after a 2006 coup, an entire party can be disbanded and all of its executives barred from politics if just one member of the party’s leadership is found guilty of vote fraud.

Thai newspapers have reported that the PPP is preparing for the worst and lining up a new “shell” party to admit all its MPs, who could try to cobble together another coalition government.

If that failed, another election -- the fourth in four years -- would almost certainly follow.

Samak has shrugged off speculation that he would call a snap election, saying on his weekend television show he would not give up but would “be steering the country to peace and unity”.

The PPP won the most votes in December’s general election, due largely to continuing support for Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted as Prime Minister in the 2006 coup.

Thaksin skipped bail last week and went into exile in London rather than face a corruption trial involving him and his wife. State prosecutors have begun the lengthy process of trying to extradite him.

Leaders of an anti-Thaksin campaign led 10,000 protesters to the British embassy in Bangkok on Tuesday to demand that London return the exiled politician.

“Thaksin, go to jail,” chanted the crowd, some of them waving oversized police arrest warrants of Thaksin and his wife Potjaman, who failed to return to Thailand last week after an overseas trip.

Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani