Monitors dismiss growing fear of post-election chaos
There are fears today's election will plunge Thailand into several weeks of crisis if, as expected, the new poll monitors eject a swathe of winners and demand fresh votes.
Last year's election for the Senate, the previously appointed upper house, dragged on for months because recalcitrant candidates repeatedly tried to cheat, according to the Election Commission.
The concern now is that the new constitution - rammed past a reluctant Parliament in 1997 - will prove to be cumbersome and unworkable in its supreme test. Although the constitution has many facets, it was ultimately designed to suppress vote-buying and so clean up Parliament.
Election Commissioner Gothom Arya warned yesterday that his organisation would not be deflected in its duty by the cries of politicians. 'Our job is to run a clean election and that is what we will do. Politicians keep claiming that they don't want there to be chaos or anything. Fine. Just don't cheat. That's the answer, isn't it?' Mr Gothom said.
The commission has, however, learnt from the Senate election, and, after one or two fresh votes in constituencies where cheating is suspected, would allow the winner to take his or her seat as investigations continue. Where the evidence of cheating is strong, candidates or winners can be ejected and a new vote held.
The law says Parliament should convene 30 days after the vote is taken, and Mr Gothom says it can be done.
But some commission officials privately say it will not be an overly serious matter if the deadline is missed by a few days. 'What do these people [the politicians] expect us to do? Say OK. Enough is enough. You can cheat now?' said one commission officer.
The commission has already disqualified four constituency candidates - the latest being Jeeraphan Pila-art in Ubon Ratchathani, who is alleged to have promised to contribute half his salary to a village fund if elected. He is still a candidate but will be ejected later and banned from politics for a year if he wins and the ruling is endorsed by the council of state.
This election marks the first time in Thai history that candidates have been thrown out for cheating. More than 30 others have been disqualified for other reasons - some because they failed to convince the commission they met the requirement of being graduates, or because they were still technically civil servants.