EC TRIO JAILED
Two courts turn down commissioners' appeals for bail; selection of new group of EC members set to begin
Election Commission chairman Vasana Puemlarp bows his head while he and the other two commissioners are escorted to Bangkok Remand Prison yesterday.
The three remaining Election Commis-sioners spent their first night in jail after two courts yesterday turned down dramatic appeals for bail following their conviction for mishandling the April 2 election.
The government and the Thai Rak Thai Party indicated their acceptance of the Criminal Court's verdict even though they had backed the three commissioners in their defiance of calls for their resignation by anti-government groups.
"If the election commissioners are released on bail, they will return to manage a new general election, which possibly would repeat what they did wrong in the recently-nullified election," the court stated in its verdict against EC chairman Vasana Puemlarp and commissioners Prinya Nakchudtree and Virachai Naewboonnien.
The court found that the commissioners were thinking of their own interests rather than that of the people. It said they had clung stubbornly to their posts even though numerous leading figures and many political parties had fiercely opposed their legitimacy to hold elections at any level.
The three EC members were sentenced to four years in prison and had their right to vote revoked for 10 years.
Yesterday's verdict stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Democrat Party deputy secretary-general Thaworn Senneam, which accused the three of negligence.
Thaworn alleged they arranged the April 23 repeat vote without
a royal decree. It was held in constituencies where lone candidates could not overcome the rule requiring a minimum of 20 per cent of total votes to claim victory.
He accused the EC of allowing some lone candidates, who failed the 20-per-cent rule, to switch to other constituencies for the April 23 vote.
The three commissioners appealed for bail shortly after they were sentenced. However, Thaworn asked the court to reject the appeal, saying they could damage the chance of a "fair" election on October 15 if they were let free.
Throughout the afternoon, the Criminal Court considered the call for bail before rejecting it. The commissioners then went to the Appeal Court but again were knocked back.
"I don't take the case personally. I take no delight in seeing the commissioners put in prison for four years," Thaworn said. "I just don't want them to manage the election on October 15."
The three commissioners refused to comment after losing their appeals.
They were escorted to a white van and taken to Bangkok Remand Prison, arriving at 6.45pm.
Tongthong Chandrangsu, deputy permanent secretary of the Justice Ministry, insisted the EC members would not get special privileges.
"They will not be treated differently from other prisoners," he said.
EC lawyer Choosak Senaboonyarith said he would appeal to the Supreme Court today for the three to be released. This would take about two days.
He said he would also appeal against the court's ruling, as the commissioners insisted they were innocent.
Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban hailed the Criminal Court's decision, saying the people still relied on judicial power.
Anti-government groups, including opposition politicians, senators and academics, along with the three top courts - Administrative, Supreme and Constitution - have all pressed for the EC members to resign, following the constitution court ruling in early May that the April 2 poll was managed illegally.
The three doggedly defied the calls, claiming they had done nothing wrong and their positions were legitimate.
Government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said Pornthip Jala, secretary-general of the Council of State, had informed the Cabinet that the three EC commissioners had now lost their status.
By having their right to vote revoked for 10 years, the commissioners were automatically disqualified from holding their posts, the Council of State stated. Surapong said the selection of five new commissioners would now begin.
Although an EC selection panel needed members of Parliament to take part with representatives of the Supreme Court, Senate Speaker Suchon Chaleekrua could begin the process instantly in the absence of a constitutional Parliament, Surapong said.
Suchon could ask the Council of the Supreme Court to carry out the selection by itself, he said.
Following the advice from the Council of State, caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra affirmed that the EC members had been disqualified and selection of a new commission could begin right away.
Thaksin expressed confidence the October 15 election would not be postponed. He said the new EC would be appointed before the election decree took effect on August 24, as the Supreme Court already had its nominations.
"We [Thai Rak Thai] play by the rules and are ready for the election, so we are not worried about the changes at the EC," he said.