EC accused of 'law-fare'

EC accused of 'law-fare'

Poll agency's decision on Future Forward Party loan case based on 'agenda set by powers that be' - PPRP could be getting ready to welcome former Democrat Pirapan into its fold - NEP looks likely to ignore party stalwart and join govt ranks

Piyabutr: Ready to challenge
Piyabutr: Ready to challenge

Future Forward secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul is facing head-on what he calls "law-fare" over his party's 191.2-million-baht loan controversy.

It will be the year-old party's toughest fight after the Election Commission decided last week to forward the case to the Constitutional Court.

The majority of EC members believe the Future Forward Party broke the charter's organic law on political parties when it was granted the loan by party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

The election watchdog based its decision on a literal reading of Section 72 of the law. Mr Piyabutr, a public law scholar, on the other hand, gives more weight to the intention of the law, an interpretation that may let his party off the hook.

Section 72 prohibits persons from donating or giving assets, or other interests, worth more than 10 million baht to political parties. The restriction is aimed to prevent money politics, in which ill-intentioned businessmen interfere with or orchestrate party affairs.

The same article also prohibits parties and their executives from accepting donations, assets or other benefits when they know, should know, or suspect the money is obtained illegally or comes from an illegitimate source.

The controversy erupted after the multi-million-baht loan came under suspicion of contravening Section 72. The same organic law also does not consider a "loan" as revenue of a party. It only lists, for example, the initial capital of a party, membership fees, donations, fundraising and party souvenir sales as sources of revenue.

After checking the facts surrounding the FFP's borrowings, many EC members believe the party committed a wrongdoing. One irregularity they considered is the conflicting loan amounts unveiled by party executives, ranging from 90 and 110 million to 250 million baht, an EC source said.

FFP spokesman Pannika Wanich explained earlier that the 250 million figure was only an estimate of election spending, when in reality the costs were lower.

For Mr Piyabutr, however, what's central to the debate is whether the loan is considered illegal.

According to investigators, the party borrowed money from Mr Thanathorn on two occasions, all of which were arranged at the FFP headquarters. Also present were party treasurer Nitiphan Taemphairot, who acted on behalf of the party leader, and witnesses including Mr Thanathorn's lawyer Ratthanon Aphinan and Mr Piyabutr.

The loan agreements were made before legal experts, so it comes as no surprise that Mr Piyabutr insists it violates no laws.

He accused the EC of making the decision based on a "set agenda ordered by people in power". The issue of "illegal money" in Section 72 is not the amount, he said, but refers to money gained from illegal activities like gambling, weapons trading and sale of untaxed products. In short, Mr Piyabutr said, the law does not want to see political parties supported by "grey money".

He believes the EC's move is nothing but the use of legal tools to act against his party, which he has coined "law-fare."

Pirapan: Was feeling 'uncomfortable'

Where to next for ex-Democrat?

Pirapan Salirathavibhaga did not disclose why he suddenly left the Democrats -- a decision that automatically terminated his position as party-list MP.

He only said that it was for personal reasons, though a source close to him indicated that he felt "uncomfortable" in his party and that his desire to stay had gone.

Mr Pirapan submitted a letter on Dec 9 to the Election Commission's political party registrar, formally informing the agency of his resignation from the party, effective immediately.

The multi-time Democrat MP for Bangkok clarified in the letter that party leader Jurin Laksanawisit and the party's registrar had been informed of his decision.

He is the second prominent member to quit the party recently.

Warong Dechgitvigrom resigned last month to join the Action Coalition for Thailand, co-founded by former Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who also led the yellow-shirt protests against the Pheu Thai-led government before it was ousted in the May 2014 military coup.

Dr Warong became known as "Dr Rice" for his role in exposing the rice-pledging scheme scandal under the administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, who was sentenced in absentia for her role in the scam that allegedly cost the country hundreds of billions of baht.

According to observers, Mr Pirapan's popularity is limited to his voters in Bangkok's Din Daeng and Huai Khwang districts.

Still, he is admired and well liked by two key figures of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) -- Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, and Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta. They are also former Democrat MPs.

The two are also known to enjoy the trust of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a source said.

The source also said the pair are expected to invite Mr Pirapan to join the PPRP, with Mr Pirapan tipped to become a candidate for Bangkok governor on the ruling party's ticket next year.

And if the PPRP revamps the structure of its executive board, Mr Pirapan very likely stands a chance of being handed a high-ranking executive post, the source added.

Mr Pirapan lost to Mr Jurin in the contest for the party leadership in May, after Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned following the party's poor showing in the March 24 general election.

The source said Mr Pirapan is poles apart from the Democrats' current executive board led by Mr Jurin, and his resignation stemmed from his dislike of the current management style. He is also known to have clashed with party adviser Chuan Leekpai at a recent meeting.

It is now only a matter of time before Mr Pirapan joins the PPRP, and all that remains to be seen is which position he assumes in his new party.

Mingkwan: Losing his clout

Mingkwan's the odd MP out

Few could blame former New Economics Party (NEP) leader Mingkwan Sangsuwan if he recently felt a little left out or even unwelcome in his party.

Despite quitting as party leader in May after his job of drafting economic policies and communicating mass media was done, he is still widely seen as the face of the NEP.

Early this week Mr Mingkwan, also a list-MP, voiced his frustration at four party MPs who defied an opposition resolution and put his reputation at stake.

Despite a boycott agreement among opposition parties, the MPs were among those who stayed behind in a House meeting, which effectively allowed the government to maintain a quorum and shoot down a motion to form a panel to look into executive orders issued by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order.

After the motion sponsored by the opposition was tossed out, NEP leader Manoon Siwapiromrat defended the MPs' move as being in line with that of the party. This claim was challenged by Mr Mingkwan who made it clear he certainly had nothing to do with it.

"There was no discussion about the previous House meeting, but I ended up being accused of being behind the incident. I have my reputation to protect, so let me say this: The party MPs have to take responsibility for what they do. I have nothing to do with them," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Mingkwan went on to remind party MPs who helped them get where they are. "Didn't you get elected because of me?" he said.

His comment was immediately interpreted as a suggestion that NEP grabbed six party-list seats thanks entirely to his role and contribution to the election campaign. It was seen as a suggestion that it was he who had thrust himself into the political scene, vowed to turn the economy around and refused to be drawn into political conflicts. He also stated he did not support the prolonged stay of the junta.

According to political observers, Mr Mingkwan does not seem to retain much influence in the party, while some critics believe his departure from the NEP has liberated the party from his election pledges, which makes him a public defendant every time the NEP appears to stray from the opposition line.

There have been talks that the four NEP MPs are ready to break ranks to support the government, although they say they are staying put and their allegiances remain unchanged.

The NEP, which is believed to be a reluctant opposition partner, is more and more open to an invitation to join the coalition government.

In a recent interview, Mr Manoon said there have been talks about joining the government but it is too soon to discuss cabinet seat allocation.

He pointed out, however, that if their ideologies match, the NEP could do business with the government.

According to political observers, Mr Manoon has left no room for doubt that the party wants in.

Under these circumstances, many believe it is only a matter of time before the NEP crosses the floor and leaves Mr Mingkwan behind with his pre-election promises unfulfilled.


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