July 25, 2006

Thai courts clearing path out of political crisis

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand moved promptly toward fixing a
long-running political crisis on Wednesday after a court
cleared the way to a solution by jailing its three sitting
election commissioners for four years.

The Senate and Supreme Court were starting the process to
select a new Election Commission after the incumbents were
jailed for mishandling a snap April general election, annulled
later, which left Thailand without a government able to make
key decisions.

The Supreme Court, responsible for nominating 10 candidates
for the five commission posts, and the Senate, responsible for
the final selection, appear determined to move swiftly to avoid
delays to an election re-run set for October 15.

"It has to be as soon as possible," said Wirat
Chinwinigkul, a member of a Supreme Court panel which has been
preparing for such an eventuality.

"If the Supreme Court president agrees with our proposal in
the meeting today, by August 15 we can finish everything,
including the meeting of all Supreme Court judges to select the
candidates," Wirat told state-run Radio Thailand.

He gave no further details, but Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, who suffered a sharp setback with the jailing of
commissioners accused of helping his party in the April
election, said he believed the court already had a list of

Senate Speaker Suchon Chaleekrua said he would meet his
legal staff to discuss when to start the selection process.

"By midday, we should have an answer how to begin the
process," he told Channel 3 Television.

The jailed commissioners were expected to resign from their
cell, a vital prerequisite for holding a re-run acceptable to
all political parties after the main opposition boycotted the
April poll because they said it could not be free and fair.

"I've brought them resignation letters," Election
Commission secretary-general Ekachai Warunprapha told reporters
in front of the Bangkok Special Prison on Wednesday morning.

The Bangkok Criminal Court verdict came three months after
King Bhumibol Adulyadej told judges to clean up the mess left
behind by the April election that Thaksin called in an attempt
to defuse street protests against him.

The king sprang a surprise last week by approving a new
election on October 15, saying he wanted a swift end to the
political stalemate that has paralyzed government
decision-making and caused economists to trim economic growth

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party is
expected to win the October run-off with a reduced majority.

The whole saga started at the end last year when a former
business associate launched a public campaign accusing Thaksin
of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.

Despite massing more than 100,000 supporters on one
occasion outside the Government House, the campaign to oust
Thaksin looked destined to fail until his family sold off their
stake in the family telecoms empire for a tax-free $1.9

Thaksin called the snap election to counter anger in
Bangkok at the deal. But an opposition boycott led to an
inconclusive result, and ultimately the decision to annul the
entire poll.