Rigging claim hits Senate poll
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Rigging claim hits Senate poll

Election Commission chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong (photo: Office of the Election Commission)
Election Commission chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong (photo: Office of the Election Commission)

The Election Commission (EC) on Monday vowed to urgently probe a claim made by caretaker senator Somchai Swangkarn that up to 149 senate election candidates have already been named winners at the district and provincial levels ahead of the forthcoming election of 200 new senators, saying if the alleged collusion to manipulate the election results is proved to be true all parties found involved will face immediate legal action.

The senate election is taking place at district, provincial and national levels on June 9, 16 and 26, respectively. Candidates who make it through the district and provincial stages will stand in the final, national-level vote.

EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said the EC was looking into Mr Somchai's claim that a list of 149 winning candidates was recently published on Facebook. However, he added that he personally believed it was unlikely to be genuine as he wasn’t aware of such a list before.

Asked if the senator would, therefore, face legal action if the claim is later proved to be groundless, Mr Ittiporn said he couldn’t instantly say so because the EC normally meets formally before recommending further action.

At this point, all Mr Ittiporn could say was that the EC will strictly follow the laws on Senate elections, and cases concerning suspected ineligibility of any particular candidates will have to go to the Supreme Court.

On Sunday, Mr Somchai disclosed what he claimed to be a list of candidates who already know they will sail through the district—and provincial-level voting.

The 149 candidates were identified only by first and last name initials, the number of their professional groups, and the provinces in which they are competing for Upper House seats.

Mr Somchai also threatened to pursue legal action against all those involved in collusion, including a number of politicians who hired these candidates to run in the Senate election as part of a voting manipulation ploy.

Mr Somchai urged the EC to speed up its investigation and a recent case in Nakhon Si Thammarat as a model for expanding its investigation to trace the mastermind behind all this.

''The misconduct of colluding to manipulate the Senate election may result in a punishment of one to ten years in prison and losing political rights for 20 years,'' said Mr Somchai.

Tewarit Maneechai, a candidate contesting in the media profession group in the election who believed he was among the 149 names hinted at by Mr Somchai, insisted he had nothing to do with any collusion and was now being affected adversely by the accusation.

According to a source, the provincial EC in Nakhon Si Thammarat disqualified 102 Senate candidates on Sunday while continuing its probe into several others.

One male candidate, named Uthai, who was disqualified for failing to have the necessary qualifications, confessed that he was hired to run in this election.

The source said the man, who normally works as a gardener, regretted his decision to accept the illegal offer because he realized he could face legal action.

Mr Somchaisaid the EC should now expand its probe to find the real mastermind.

EC secretary-general Sawang Boonmee pledged support to all officials at provincial offices should they face growing pressure from those attempting to disrupt the Senate election, according to a source who has seen this message sent by Mr Sawang on the Line messaging app to all EC officials.

Another source, meanwhile, revealed that the Senate’s committee on independent organisations had invited the EC secretary-general to a meeting on Thursday to discuss public concerns, including the allegations of collusion.

Meanwhile, Senator Kasidit Archvakhun, spokesman for the Senate committee, said the Nakhon Si Thammarat case was just the tip of the iceberg, and he was ready to supply the EC with secret information about widespread collusion to manipulate the results.

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