Decision delights business leaders
All see the way clear now for poll to proceed, and a return of investor confidence
Economists and businessmen welcomed the decision by the Criminal Court to jail the three election commissioners yesterday, saying it should lead to an end to the prolonged political crisis, which was largely a result of the Election Commission's (EC) mishandling of the April 2 election.
Thai shares ended only 0.67 per cent higher, as the news was overshadowed by profit-taking after negotiations on a cease-fire between Lebanon and Israel.
The SET Index started the day with a strong surge to 691.38 points and hit a high of 692.84 later on. The gain, however, was narrowed after the court's ruling and the market finished at 688.35 on brisk turnover of Bt19.66 billion compared to Bt3.4 billion the previous day.
Though the domestic political situation has become clearer, cease-fire talks in the Middle East will continue to exert pressure and limit the market's gain, said Kosin Sripaiboon, vice president of UOB Kay Hian Securities (Thailand).
"The decision [by the court] should help restore confidence to the country. It shows that Thailand still has the rule of law and the court is independent and free from political intervention," said Pairoj Pongvipanond, an economics lecturer at Thurakit Bandit University.
His comment came as the Criminal Court sentenced the three election commissioners, seen as close allies of embattled caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to four years in prison for violating election laws and abusing their powers.
The ruling was seen by many as a major step forwards toward the end of the political crisis. Until the ruling, the Thai opposition, the media and some quarters of the public had called for the EC commissioners to quit, questioning their legitimacy to oversee the upcoming election on October 15.
Kosit Panpiemras, executive chairman of Bangkok Bank, said the court's decision had been made in accordance with the proper procedure, based on a framework of reconciliation.
"The decision shows that the judicial process is functioning," he said, adding that the decision was welcomed by the majority of the public. "The court trial was based on legality and political science. The court might also have based its decision on the reconciliation factor," he said.
The president of the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), Santi Vilassakdanont, said the decision should bring about a clearer picture of the political situation.
"The private sector needs to see the earliest election, so that we can have a government to restore investment confidence," he said.
Caretaker Finance Minister Thanong Bidaya said the court's decision should ensure that there will be an election on October 15.
"The election should have positive consequences for the economy," he said, adding that budget disbursement for the next fiscal year will nonetheless certainly be put on hold until March. "The sooner the new government is formed, the better for the country as a whole," said Thanong.
Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Rice Exporters Association, said the court's decision should help clear the gloomy political atmosphere stemming from questions over the legitimacy of the election commissioners.
"The atmosphere should be better because there will be no more questions over the legitimacy of the three election commissioners to oversee the general election," he said. "After the election, the political situation should be improved."
Suchada Kirakul, senior director of the Bank of Thailand, said the ruling would restore investor confidence. "The public will be more hopeful, as before they didn't know the direction of political policy," she said.
The next step is to seek new election commissioners and proceed with the general election, which will clarify the political situation.
The Bank of Thailand will again
review its 2006 economic-growth estimate, announcing the result on Friday.
Pornsilp Patcharintanakul, deputy secretary-general of Board of Trade of Thailand, said it should be obvious now that the EC's status is no longer valid. This, he said, was the first step in bringing some order back to all the political turmoil.
"This helps clear up all the fog and confusion. However, it cannot increase the confidence of investors and businessmen yet since they will await the establishment of a new government to drive economic policy," he said.
Wiwat Hemmontharop, an FTI executive member, said the new commissioners should be respectable. "Although many may think that the EC was under pressure, the pressure was sound and reasonable. If the current EC members are out, politics should proceed well," he said.
A deputy secretary-general of the Board of Trade, Jit Siratranont, said the change in the EC's membership was the best way out for the Kingdom.
"It will show that the new election will be smoothly organised, while both domestic and foreign investor confidence will recover after getting a clear profile of the election commissioners."
Thanawat Polvichai, director of the Economic and Business Forecasting Centre, said the new commissioners should be selected soon.
"The setting of a precise date for the election should boost Thailand's economy. But if the three convicted commissioners had insisted on hanging on to their posts, that would have decelerated economic growth by 0.1-0.2 percentage points each month," he said.