Reform committee chair wants tough penalty for election fraud

politics September 26, 2016 01:00



THE National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA)’s political reform committee - which has a reputation for being hard-bitten following several strong political reform proposals - will make its voice heard again in a meeting on Wednesday with law-making bodies

The current regime wants to root out corrupt politicians and inject decent new players, as pledged when it staged the coup two years ago. 
The politicians, on the other hand, want to reassert themselves and resist the change being forced on them by the present powers-that-be. 
So, this reform task has fallen into the committee’s lap.
Among the “harsh” reforms it has proposed are long-term or life-time bans on politicians guilty of election fraud, and a “back to zero” order to all political parties that would force them to re-register both parties and members.
The committee’s chair, veteran legislator Seree Suwannapanont has insisted on extreme measures against politicians guilty of poll fraud. But he has clarified another extreme measure dubbed “a zero setting” for political parties, saying the panel did not mean to punish parties, but just wished to get them to re-register their members.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Seree revealed the committee would propose to the drafters that politicians involved in election fraud should still be sentenced to 10 years jail, without suspension.
“With this measure everyone will be afraid to commit election fraud,” the chairman of the political reform committee said.
The idea was based on the premise of an ‘inexpensive election’, Seree explained. The committee had conducted a study and found the roots to almost every problem in Thai politics were people investing in politics as if they were a business and looking to make profits, he said.
“So, an election has to be inexpensive. No more vote-buying.” he said. 
“Besides the pre-emptive measures – such as having parties receive their budget from membership fees, state subsidy, and public donations, we are introducing this proactive measure of punishing election fraud wrongdoers with a real jail sentence.”
News had circulated that the current regime would push the issue to square one by requiring all parties to start from scratch again – making them re-register both parties and their members. But Seree dismissed the idea, saying such action would not be fair to the parties. 
“What did the parties do wrong to deserve such disbanding?” he said. “It’s the people, not the institution, that committed the wrongdoing.”
He explained a suggestion the panel had put forward was to clear up party’s membership. Documents in the past had not been done in an orderly way, he said.
“The thing we should re-check is whether the members exist or not and whether they have membership with more than one party,” Seree said. “It needs to be sorted out to learn how many members they actually have. This would relate to the membership fees they would receive each year, on top of which the state would also pay a subsidy of the same amount.”
Under the new organic laws on political parties, each member of the party is required to pay Bt200 as an annual fee. The state would join in by donating the same amount. Authorities believe these fees would encourage parties to find members. 
Despite politicians crying out against the new rules and regulations in the charter and proposed organic laws, Seree was reluctant to say he was 100 per cent satisfied with the written measures.
“Our committee has studied the root cause of the problem and we think we can see how to fix it. If they [the CDC] follow our suggestion, I am certain we can solve the issues and reform politics,” he said.
But some ideas had not received a warm welcome, Seree said. For example, the committee suggested the party-list system be abolished, keeping only the constituency MPs. The drafters had not responded, he said.
Seree said the party-lists were full of businessmen seeking to invest in politics for personal |interest.
The committee had also suggested the Senate be fully appointed, he said. The CDC had not adopted this idea either, [although] it could help enhance the checks and balance system, he added.
However, Seree said the committee could do nothing but provide opinions for the drafters and legislators. It was up to them whether they would take up their recommendations or not.
“We’ll see how much everything works out when regularity resumes next year,” he said.