EC needs to be impartial

EC needs to be impartial

This year, two individuals have set extraordinary examples for Thai people, demonstrating that integrity and honesty are traits that matter for those in or running for public office.

The first is Wichian Chinnawong, the Kanchanaburi wildlife sanctuary chief, who was praised for his courage in arresting and pursuing charges against construction tycoon Premchai Karnasutra over the alleged poaching of an endangered black leopard.

The second is a student at Mahasarakham University, Panida Yotpanya, who exposed an embezzlement scandal at a provincial welfare centre, an action which led to corruption scams at other government agencies being revealed.

And for the time being, the public agency that needs to follow their example is the Election Commission (EC). Set up as an "independent agency", the EC has been rebuked for lacking both independence and integrity for kowtowing to the demands of the government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The EC's latest refusal to launch a probe into a vote-canvassing complaint against the pro-NCPO Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) has only worsened its credibility.

With four cabinet members as its executives and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as its potential prime ministerial candidate, the PPRP has been accused of benefiting from the government's recent social welfare measures, including cash handouts granted to the registered poor, the elderly and retirees. The scheme is part of an 86.9-billion-baht "New Year gift".

Launched just a few months ahead of the Feb 24 poll, other political parties have called for the EC to probe whether these measures are an attempt to use state resources to woo votes for the PPRP's campaign, especially since the regime prohibited other parties from campaigning prior to the lifting of the political ban on Tuesday.

But the EC has not conducted a probe. Instead, EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma on Thursday endorsed the state policy, saying it is a "legitimate, helpful" scheme.

Before this laughable endorsement was made, the agency appeared to kowtow to a number of attempts by the NCPO to interfere in its business. The latest episode involves the proposed design of ballot papers for which, unlike in previous elections, the logos, names and numbers of political parties will be omitted.

This was said to be an idea floated by Gen Prayut but he has since denied it. No matter who proposed it, the plan serves no purpose. The idea does not suit the new electoral system, which will use a single ballot for counting votes for both constituency and party-list MPs.

So far, the EC has failed to provide a convincing explanation about the proposed design. It should be reminded that omitting the party names and logos will not help voters recognise the party they want to vote for at the polling booths. It will only benefit local politicians who have become household names in their constituencies -- many of whom have defected from other parties to the PPRP.

This could cause confusion among voters given that candidates from the same party will be assigned different numbers. If the ballot paper matters for party-list MP votes, the EC must ensure the parties' presence is included in it.

Also, the EC's redrawing of electoral constituencies in 11 provinces, which are the strongholds of the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties, has been seen as an attempt to gerrymander election results in favour of the PPRP.

It is no surprise why the EC has not stood up against the directives of the NCPO. Its current commissioners are appointed by the regime.

Calls for the regime and the government to stop meddling with the EC's business seem to have fallen on deaf ears. If Thailand is to hold a fair and free election, the only alternative is calling for the EC to stand up against interference and intimidation by the regime and maintain its work as an independent body.

If the agency lacks the courage or know-how to carry out this task, they can ask for advice from both Ms Panida and Mr Wichian.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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