Gloomy times for democracy

Gloomy times for democracy

As an agency whose rulings on alleged wrongdoings against political parties and politicians can be of a make-or-break nature, the Election Commission (EC) should really handle these cases in a more prudent, undisputed, transparent and non-partisan manner. However, the EC's handling of several cases over the past year has put it in the firing line of accusations that it lacks integrity and political neutrality.

A number of decisions it made over the past few weeks against the Future Forward Party (FFP) and a member of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) speak volumes.

Its pursuance of a case against the FFP over a 191-million-baht loan that the party sought from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been met with rebukes for being unfair and non-compliant with the law. It has also been seen by many as the agency having double standards.

The case stemmed from allegations that the money given to the party should be considered a donation, not a loan, and that the party violated the election law which forbids donations of over 10 million baht.

Citing a leaked report from the EC's two investigative sub-committees which concluded that the case should be dismissed, FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said the election commissioners were required by law to have dropped the case.

The sub-committees also reasoned that this loan is not a donation and that it is within the law, adding that other parties did similar things in the past and the practice was accepted by the agency.

Yet five of the seven election commissioners ruled in favour of proceeding with filing the case with the Constitutional Court. Mr Piyabutr has also accused the EC of failing to inform the party of its decision.

Meanwhile, the agency has issued a statement threatening to seek legal action against those who leaked the report. It also vaguely and confusingly countered Mr Piyabutr's claim by saying the leaked report was related to a separate "criminal case" involving the loan. This declaration has raised more questions instead of providing the necessary explanation.

Separately, former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn came up with some interesting information. Citing last year's financial reports of 18 political parties, including FFP, he said these parties had taken loans from their executives or other sources. Of these parties, six are small parties that are part of the coalition government.

Mr Somchai also raised a very pertinent question: Why hasn't the EC sought to dissolve these parties over the so-called loans as it is doing with the FFP?

Additionally, the EC's decision this week to dismiss a vote-buying allegation against a PPRP candidate in Roi Et has baffled many. The agency ruled there was evidence that two local leaders had paid voters to join a rally of the candidate ahead of the election last year.

But it quoted her as saying that she did not know the pair and just dismissed the allegation, when in reality it should have done more to unearth facts.

Under the current commissioners, who were chosen by lawmakers of the previous military regime, whose members were also part of the current administration, the EC has been repeatedly accused of having double standards and practising nepotism. Given that its decisions have far-ranging impacts across the political landscape, the agency's seemingly dubious handling of many key political cases has steered the country's democracy towards an increasingly dark and gloomy future.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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