Academics want panel stripped of key power
Investigating electoral complaints and endorsing winners should be done by judiciary, participants at seminar say
academic Napisa Waithoonkiat, right, speaks during a seminar held by the Thai Journalists Association yesterday about the role of the Election Commission, as Thammasat University law lecturer Worajet Pakeerat, centre, and Komsan Phokong, a law lecturer at
The Election Com-mission should be deprived of its power to investigate and endorse MPs, and the judicial branch should assume responsibility for ensuring a clean and fair election, academics said at a seminar yesterday.
Election commissioners have come under mounting pressure to quit to take responsibility for their much criticised role in organising the April 2 election, which has been dismissed as undemocratic and unjust. The EC was yesterday dealt another blow at the seminar, though the academics did not go so far as to call for the EC to be dissolved.
University lecturers and independent academics said the EC should be stripped of powers - guaranteed by the Constitution - to investigate electoral complaints and endorse MPs.
At the seminar organised by Thai Journalists Association, the academics said they did not believe the EC should be dissolved, but agreed it had played a key role in organising an election that has driven the country into a political deadlock.
Komsan Phokong, a lecturer at Sukhothai Thammarat Open University's Faculty of Law, said that although the Constitution gave the government the power to set the date of an election, the EC had the right to ensure that the government did so appropriately.
He said the EC should have opposed the government's decision to set the date of the election too early as it put opposition parties at a disadvantage. The EC also messed up when it let candidates apply in more than one constituency, he said.
Komsan also criticised EC chairman Vasana Puemlarp, saying he exploited legal loopholes to endorse MPs at a meeting of commissioners that fell short of quorum. Vasana had defended the EC by saying commissioners held a teleconference to endorse MPs and that there was no law preventing them from doing so.
Komsan said the role and responsibility of the EC must be reviewed because it had failed to ensure a clean and fair election.
"We have to admit that although an independent body like the EC works well in some countries such as in India, in Thailand the EC failed and has pushed the country's democracy a step back,'' he said.
The EC's failure stems from the interference of a powerful political party in many independent bodies, he said. "Who would think that a single politician and one party would win a landslide victory and that its power would damage the neutrality of independent agencies?''
Worajet Pakeerat, a lecturer of Thammasat University's Faculty of Law, agreed that the EC did not need to be dissolved. Instead, its role needs to be reviewed and a check on it installed. "Our country's democracy should step forward instead of going back to allow the election to be under the control of the Interior Ministry,'' he said.
He agreed that the EC has had too much power to endorse or disqualify MPs or give candidates yellow or red cards.
"The political parties that can control the EC, can determine who gets red or yellow cards. This problem has become uncontrollable because of the lack of a check mechanism,'' he said.
Napisa Waithoonkiat, an independent academic, agreed that the judicial branch and the media should monitor the EC's decisions.
She said that there was a need to clearly specify in the Constitution who has the power to set the date of an election. The terms of election commissioners and the EC chairman should be shortened from seven years to one, she added.
She also called for the number of commissioners to be raised from five to nine by allowing representatives from political parties to join the watchdog, she said.