Thailand's three election commissioners, seen as close allies of embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were today sentenced to four years in prison for allowing unqualified candidates to run in parliamentary elections in April.
The three commissioners were found guilty of violating election laws and abusing their powers by allowing candidates in April 2 balloting to run in different constituencies in a second round of voting on April 23. The country's top courts later nullified the poll results, saying the elections were unconstitutional.
The conviction is a setback for Thaksin because all three commissioners are seen as his allies and their actions were widely viewed as a favour to the prime minister.
The court also revoked the commissioners' right to vote and conduct any political activities for 10 years.
"The election commissioners carried out the elections in an unfair manner," the court said. "They are found guilty ... and the court sentences them to four years in prison."
If the court grants them bail, the commissioners – Vasana Puemlarp, Prinya Nakchudtree and Virachai Naewboonnien – would still be allowed to carry out their responsibilities. It was not immediately known when the court would decide whether to allow bail.
Prinya said that he and his co-defendants would appeal the verdict.
"I hope the court will grant us mercy by granting us bail," he said.
He added that they would maintain their status as commissioners, which they would lose if the Supreme Court also finds them guilty.
"We will continue to perform our duties until the last minute," Prinya said. "I insist that we are innocent ... I am appealing for public sympathy. I did not do anything wrong."
Opposition Democrat party leader Thavorn Seniem, who filed the lawsuit against the commissioners, petitioned the court asking that the commissioners not be granted bail.
"They have reaped the consequences of what they have done ... If they are allowed to stay outside prison and continue to carry out their duties, they will endlessly commit wrongdoing," Thavorn said. "I believe that the next election will be more fair."
Thaksin dissolved Parliament and called the April 2 elections three years ahead of schedule in an effort to defuse a growing protest movement calling for his resignation on grounds of alleged corruption and abuse of power.
His party won after the three main opposition parties boycotted the polls and millions of voters marked an abstention box on their ballots as a protest against the prime minister.
The boycott and abstentions meant that in some constituencies, winners could not be certified because they failed to attain a legal minimum share of the registered vote. The inconclusive results left Parliament unable to convene.
The Election Commission called new balloting on April 23, in a decision seen as favouring Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.
The top courts annulled the inconclusive elections and urged the commissioners to resign so that new commissioners could be appointed to ensure fairness in new general elections set for October 15.
Sources and Relevant Links:
Breakingnews Thai election commissioners jailed for four years 25 July 2006
IOL.Co.Za Jailed Thai election officials quit 27 July 2006
PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST Thailand election commissioners get jail time for abuse of power in April poll 25 July 2006