EC inquiry likely to go against PPP

Thaksin de facto party leader, panel believes

BANGKOK POST REPORTERS

An Election Commission inquiry is likely to find that the People Power party is a political nominee of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai party, which could result in the governing party being disbanded.

According to election commissioner Sumet Upanisakorn, the sub-committee headed by Paitoon Netiphoti has indicated that deposed prime minister and TRT leader Thaksin Shinawatra is the de facto leader of the core coalition party.

The Paitoon panel recently submitted a report to the EC, which has delayed a decision for another 15 days. The commission has ordered the sub-committee to question three more people, including Mr Thaksin.

The others are Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network against Corruption, who lodged the complaint against the PPP and Mr Thaksin, and Supapol Iammethawee, leader of a civic group in the Northeast.

''Evidence suggests that the PPP is a nominee of the dissolved TRT. The sub-committee has reasons to back up their findings but the EC feels Mr Thaksin should have his say,'' said Mr Sumet.

Mr Thaksin, who was granted court permission to leave the country, was allowed to defend himself in writing, Mr Sumet added.

He said Mr Thaksin would be liable to two years in prison under Article 97 of the Political Party Law if found to be involved with the PPP.

The PPP could be dissolved if it is found guilty of breaking the law governing political parties, election commissioner Prapun Naigowit said.

The article prohibits banned executives of any disbanded party from getting involved with any other party during the period of the ban, while a clause in Article 94 threatens to punish the party and its executives who allow themselves to be manipulated.

However, Mr Prapun said the five-member EC did not make a ruling regarding the case because the investigation was still incomplete.

''We want to get it over with. Once the committee completes its inquiry, we will rule on the case,'' he said.

The EC is expected to decide whether to endorse the result of the investigation by the end of this month or early April.

''A political mess is likely because many PPP executives are in the cabinet,'' said election commissioner Sodsri Sattayatham.

If the inquiry rules that the PPP is a nominee of the TRT and the EC endorses the finding, the case will be presented to the Constitution Court, which will decide whether the PPP should be dissolved or not.

The fate of cabinet members may hang in the balance because many of the PPP's executives are ministers, including Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee.

Executives may be held to account, too, if the party is in the wrong.

Questions would emerge as to whether such ministers should suspend their duties once the Constitution Court accepts the nominee case for hearing.

However, EC secretary-general Suthiphon Thaveechaiyagarn said taking down the PPP may not be easy.

There is no law that imposes punishment on a party that is a nominee of others, he said.

''I believe that Mr Samak knew the law when he declared that he was Mr Thaksin's nominee,'' said Mr Suthiphon, who is not allowed to vote on the EC.

Mr Suthiphon said that if Mr Thaksin is found guilty as accused, he will be subject to criminal charges and he alone will face the legal consequences, not the PPP.

Mr Suthiphon said the PPP could be dissolved if its member Yongyuth Tiyapairat is found guilty by the Supreme Court of electoral fraud and the PPP is found to be involved.

Mr Paitoon, head of the sub-panel, said his inquiry would issue summons to the three individuals tomorrow.

Pongthep Thepkanchana, who is Mr Thaksin's spokesman, said the former prime minister had nothing to do with the PPP and did not have a vested interest in the party.

''The object of this case is the PPP. Mr Thaksin has nothing to lose or gain,'' said Mr Pongthep.

Meanwhile, PPP-list MP Chaowarin Latthasaksiri yesterday sought a ruling on Mr Sumet's qualifications to be an EC member.

In his petition signed by 74 MPs, Mr Chaowarin wanted the Constitution Court to rule whether Mr Sumet is older than the maximum age for an election commissioner, which is set at 70. He turned 70 on March 9.