Thai Anti-Graft Body Says 308 MPs Acted Illegally

By Jinda Wedel 8 January 2014

BANGKOK — Thailand’s state anti-corruption body ruled Tuesday that 308 pro-government lawmakers acted illegally in seeking to pass a bill to make Parliament’s upper house an all-elected body.

The ruling by the National Anti-Corruption Commission will lead to a further investigation of the lawmakers, and could eventually result in their being banned from politics.

The commission did not explain its ruling. A separate Constitutional Court earlier ruled that the lawmakers acted illegally by violating legislative procedures and threatening to weaken the system of administrative checks and balances.

The commission’s ruling adds a new element of instability to Thai politics, which have been roiled by a sometimes-violent power struggle between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon, is in self-imposed exile to avoid serving a two-year jail term for corruption.

Anti-government demonstrators have been conducting street protests since November against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, who dissolved Parliament in early December and called new polls for Feb. 2. Now a caretaker prime minister, she was one of several dozen lawmakers the commission said did not act improperly because their actions did not give a clear “appearance of wrongdoing.”

Because of the large number of people involved, the commission is unlikely to be able to take further action before the scheduled polls. However, if it affirms the guilt of the 308 lawmakers, those who are re-elected could be suspended from their jobs, and further legal action by a court could ban them from political office.

The anti-government protesters are demanding that no election be held until an appointed government institutes political reforms, which could take as long as two years. They say Thaksin’s wealth gives him an unbeatable political advantage, so changes are needed to end corruption and money politics.

The opposition Democrat Party, closely allied with the protest movement, is boycotting the polls. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party says the Democrats could not win even if they choose to campaign. Parties affiliated with Thaksin have won every national election since 2001.

The protesters have vowed to “shut down” Bangkok this coming Monday by blocking key intersections in the capital.

The group has already temporarily occupied government office compounds and attempted to stop election candidates from registering.

Yingluck’s government faces several other legal challenges that could dislodge it, and also faces the possible threat of a coup. The army has declared its neutrality, but has been reluctant to help police protect government agencies against the protesters.

Yingluck told reporters Tuesday that people should not worry about widespread coup rumors. She said that in her concurrent position of defense minister, she believes “the military commanders will think of long-term solutions rather than employing various measures unacceptable to many countries.”

The United States and other allies have urged that Thailand proceed with democratic change through elections.