Ousted Thai senator in line for election role

BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

A former senator who was disqualified for electoral fraud is on the shortlist for an independent commission responsible for organizing elections and stopping vote buying, the Thai state news agency reported Saturday.

Sirin Thoopklam, who was forced to step down earlier this year as a senator for the central province of Lop Buri, is one of 10 people shortlisted for the five-member Election Commission. Sirin has denied any electoral fraud.

The Thai News Agency reported that two outgoing commissioners who stood for re-selection were not shortlisted. The other three were not running.

The commission, set up under a 1997 constitution adopted to tackle political corruption in Thailand, has made waves with its efforts to curb rampant vote fraud. It is an important symbol of democratic political reform in Thailand.

In Senate elections in 2000, the commission ordered by-elections in more than one third of constituencies. In general elections to the House of Representatives in January 2001, it disqualified a number of candidates and ordered dozens of by-elections.

A lower house panel selected five of the nominees, including Sirin, on Friday. The supreme court had earlier selected five other nominees, mostly judges and lawyers. The selection of five commissioners from the ten nominees will be made by the Senate by the end of July.

Thai press on Saturday criticized the lower house panel for its choices.

Thai Rath, Thailand’s highest circulation newspaper, said in a front page headline that the lower house was taking “vengeance” against the outgoing election commissioners.

The Bangkok Post reported that the new election commissioners “may have a problem winning public trust” because “some scandal-tainted candidates may win the five vacant seats.”

The Thai News Agency quoted Prasert Nasakul, the chairman of the lower house selection panel, as saying that the panel had the right not to explain its choices, even if they contradicted to public opinion.

The current election commissioners, widely regarded as incorruptible, have just completed their three and a half year term and are currently serving in a caretaker capacity. Their replacements will serve for seven years.