Khon Kaen set for by-election

Khon Kaen set for by-election

PPRP eye seat in poll re-run after murder conviction ends Pheu Thai MP's parliamentary status | Government faces challenge of no-confidence motion ahead of censure debate | Pareena's tax payments for poultry farm may prove her undoing.

A by-election in Khon Kaen's Constituency 7 is expected to take place on Dec 22 after the Constitutional Court ruled that murder convict Nawat Tohcharoensuk is no longer a Pheu Thai Party MP on Wednesday.

The court said his status as a parliamentarian effectively ended on Oct 16 when the court ordered him to stop carrying out the functions and responsibilities of a member of parliament.

Sutin: Gunning for Prayut

Under the law, the Election Commission must hold a by-election within 45 days of the House seat becoming vacant.

Nawat was found guilty and sentenced to death by Khon Kaen Criminal Court in late September for masterminding the murder of a local administrative official six years ago. The court also ordered him to pay 300,000 baht for the funeral costs of the murdered man. Nawat's request for bail pending an appeal was rejected.

The judges found that Nawat ordered the murder because the victim was having an affair with his wife.

Suchart Khotethum was shot dead in front of his home in Khon Kaen's Muang district on May 3, 2013, as he was about to leave for work.

The by-election will again draw attention to Khon Kaen which has traditionally been a stronghold of Pheu Thai. The party will do all it can to protect its turf from political rivals, according to the party's chief strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan.

The March 24 general election saw Nawat battle it out against Somsak Khun-ngern of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

In fact, Mr Somsak is no stranger to Pheu Thai as he was a former MP and executive of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, which was reborn first as the People Power Party and then Pheu Thai.

When Mr Somsak was banished from politics as a result of the court-ordered dissolution of Thai Rak Thai on charges of electoral fraud, Nawat stepped in to become an MP under the banner of the People Power Party.

After serving out a five-year ban from politics, Mr Somsak made a comeback and contested elections on the ticket of other political parties, but failed to win.

He later became a PPRP election candidate in the March 24 poll but lost to Nawat. Mr Somsak gained 26,553 votes compared to the 29,710 won by Nawat.

Of Khon Kaen's 10 constituency seats up for grabs in the March 24 election, Pheu Thai won eight while the Future Forward Party and the PPRP gained one each.

Even though Pheu Thai still captured the lion's share of the seats in the province, losing two seats to the FFP and PPRP was seen to be a humiliation, observers noted.

The Constituency 7 by-election is expected to be a highly charged battle between the government and the opposition, though the ruling PPRP is tipped to have the upper hand as a result of several measures rolled out to win over the public, such as the Chim, Shop, Chai (taste, shop, spend) cash handouts scheme.

Opposition readies salvo

The opposition is planning what could be its most potent exercise against the government to date as it looks set to file a no-confidence motion in parliament.

The debate could sink the barely five-month-old administration if the opposition can pull off a well-orchestrated performance, according to a political source.

However, before the show gets under way, the opposition has a lot of homework to do and if it has collected enough evidence to censure the government effectively, it is certainly been keeping quiet about it.

Nawat: Masterminded murder

Observers have noted the finer details of the debate remain open to conjecture. But the big question is whether the opposition has picked the most timely occasion to launch its onslaught.

The observer said that in the past, censure motions tended to have been tabled when administrations' popularity took a steep dive, which rendered the executive branch particularly vulnerable to political attacks. The governments were faced with damning allegations stemming chiefly from corruption and abuse of power.

The alleged malpractices were almost always backed with "receipts" or substantive proof of the wrongdoings to hand the government of the day a political death warrant.

However, scheduling the censure debate tentatively for late this month or early next month may not be the most opportune time to badger the government.

After all, some of the most prickly issues which could undermine the government's stability have been widely discussed in parliament and the wider general public do not appear to be bothered by them.

A case in point is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's alleged incomplete recital of the oath of office which was the central issue of a debate in parliament in September.

Supporters of the prime minister took Pol Gen Sereepisuth Temeeyaves to task for dwelling on a "done deal", which is a reference to the Constitutional Court's ruling that the oath was an affair between the monarchy and the cabinet.

The observers agreed the oath blunder carries too little leverage to justify a no-confidence motion and the opposition should exclude it from the censure agenda.

The opposition has so far kept tight-lipped about what the cabinet ministers will be censured on although Sutin Klungsang, the opposition chief whip, has declared Gen Prayut will definitely be on the list of no-confidence targets.

However, Mr Sutin has not spelled out on what grounds Gen Prayut will face the censure motion expected to be filed by Dec 5.

Topics that could be raised are wide-ranging, such as graft, incompetence, illegal actions, suitability for public office and tarnishing the country's image in the eyes of the international community, according to the opposition chief whip.

In a spot of land bother

Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) MP Pareena Kraikupt is known to be one of the most outspoken critics of the Future Forward Party (FFP), so it came as no surprise that she directed her attention to a land scandal involving Somporn Juangroongruangkit, mother of FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

However, the 43-year-old MP has a solid reason to step in given the fact that the disputed land is located in Chom Bung district in Ratchaburi where she serves as an MP, according to political observers.

Pareena: Claims land plot is legal

Claiming she was acting due to the plight of local residents, not political motivation, Ms Pareena submitted a petition to the Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Ministry, demanding a probe into the plot.

The scandal surrounding Ms Somporn involves a 500-rai land plot, which is said to be part of the 1,050-rai community forest.

It would have won her applause from local residents, according to political observers, if she had not become embroiled in a similar land grab scandal in her own backyard.

The allegations were made by Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, another "chief of complaints" who is a former member of the dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party.

He alleged that parts of Ms Pareena's 1,700-rai land in Chom Bung district are classified as Sor Por Kor land -- a type reserved for land reform purposes and distributed to landless farmers.

The disputed plot appeared on Ms Pareena's assets totalling 169.7 million baht declared before the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) upon becoming an MP. Mr Ruangkrai has petitioned the anti-graft agency to investigate.

Based on her declaration, the PPRP MP reported owning 76 land plots. Of the total, 58 plots cover 1,706 rai in Moo 6, tambon Rang Bua in Chom Bung district, and house the MP's poultry farm.

Ms Pareena has defended her rights to occupy and use the disputed land, citing the local taxes known as Por Bor Thor 5.

In her interviews with the Thai media, she appeared to admit she did not have any official documents certifying her claim on the land. But the MP insisted that, in practice, she holds the rights through her regular payments of the appropriate taxes.

Her father, former deputy transport minister Tawee Kraikupt, also stepped to her defence, saying the accusations against his daughter were politically motivated.

According to political sources, Ms Pareena has some serious questions to answer.

The Por Bor Thor 5 tax does not give an individual the legal right to own the land; it is just a record of tax payments to the local authority for land they have utilised.

It is said that some land occupants are eager to pay this local tax and use the payment to claim ownership of land plots, according to political sources.

The Interior Ministry's Department of Provincial Administration is apparently aware of the practice and issued a circular letter in 2008 stating that forest or public land plots are not allowed for Por Bor Thor 5 tax calculation, according to political sources.

According to the political observers, the Por Bor Tor 5 may be a double-edged sword for Ms Pareena if the controversial plot she occupies is determined to be part of the Sor Por Kor land programme.

As the Por Bor Thor 5 tax is by no means proof of land ownership, the tax records she has could be used as evidence to prove that she has encroached on state land.


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