PPP ready to set up new party

Yongyuth guilty verdict could see it dissolved


The People Power party (PPP) is preparing to set up a new political entity if ex-deputy leader Yongyuth Tiyapairat is disqualified by the Supreme Court today in the conclusion to the vote-buying case from last year's general election.

The ruling by the Supreme Court's election cases division could affect the future of the PPP because Mr Yongyuth was an executive member when the alleged poll fraud took place.

A PPP source said yesterday Songkram Kitlertpairoj, a Samut Prakan MP, had been assigned to register a new political party called Puea Thai.

Banjongsak Wongrattanawan would be the leader and Olarn Kitlertpairoj, Mr Songkram's step-brother, would be the secretary-general, the source said.

The new party would take in MPs from the PPP if the PPP is ordered to be dissolved, the source added.

Those MPs who move to the new party are required to form a government. But if they fail, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej would be asked to exercise his authority to dissolve the House and call a general election, the source said.

Mr Yongyuth could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But Sakorn Sirichai, his lawyer, quoted him as saying that the former House speaker will respect the court's ruling whichever way it goes.

Business leaders played down the potential economic impact of the case as the country's investment atmosphere is already weak regardless of today's court ruling.

Representatives of the Board of Trade and the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) said investor sentiment, which was already unfavourable, was unlikely to deteriorate much further.

"In the worst-case scenario, where the [Yongyuth] ruling leads to the PPP's dissolution and we have to have an election, this would not have a significant impact on investor confidence," said Board of Trade deputy secretary-general Pornsil Patcharintanakul.

"At present, the business sector has very little confidence in politics. I don't think investors will commit to new ventures in Thailand at the moment."

FTI vice-chairman Adisak Rohitasune agreed, saying businesses were more worried about rising oil prices and the anti-government protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

"We can accept changes in the democratic system," said Mr Adisak.

"But the deadlock brought on by the anti-government protests should end peacefully. This is our main concern."

The secretary-general of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, Tsuyoshi Inoue, said Japanese investors are not worried by recent political problems so long as the situation does not end up hurting the economy.

"Last year, the political situation was very bad but the Thai economy still grew by more than 4%. Japanese firms, therefore, have not lost any confidence in Thailand," he said.

But Japanese companies which have not yet set up in Thailand may adopt a wait-and-see stance before investing here, added Mr Inoue.

For today's case, the court completed its witness hearings on May 20.

The Election Commission accused Mr Yongyuth, then a PPP deputy leader, of offering money to a group of kamnans [tambon heads] in Chiang Rai's Mae Chan district in return for helping his sister, La-ong Tiyapairat, win the election.

Chaiwat Changkaokham, a 52-year-old kamnan in Mae Chan, was a key witness testifying against Mr Yongyuth.

In his testimony on May 8, Mr Chaiwat said each of the kamnans in Mae Chan district was paid 20,000 baht.

He said that in October last year he was contacted by Mr Yongyuth's aide, who asked him to travel to Bangkok to meet the Chiang Rai politician with fellow kamnans from the same district and Banjong Yangyuen, municipal mayor of tambon Janjawa.

His group agreed to travel to Bangkok on Oct 28, 2007. They met Mr Yongyuth at a hotel.

Mr Yongyuth asked them to help canvass for his sister, a constituency MP candidate for the PPP, and other PPP candidates, Mr Chaiwat told the court.

After his group agreed to support Ms La-ong and the other PPP candidates who were Mae Chan natives, Mr Yongyuth left the hotel room where they had met, Mr Chaiwat said.

Mr Banjong then allegedly gave each member of the group an envelope containing 20,000 baht in cash.

Sakorn Sirichai, Mr Yongyuth's lawyer, said the case is a civil one and Mr Yongyuth and Ms La-ong will not necessarily turn up in court to hear the verdict.

Bangkok Post