March 20, 2014 00:00
By CHANIKARN PHUMHIRAN
Phongthep warns holding another poll could result in more casualties
THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT will, tomorrow, make a much-awaited ruling on the validity of the February 2 election, a judgement that could end the ongoing political stalemate or further fuel conflict.
The court set the schedule after hearing accounts of all parties concerned in the dispute. The petition asking the court to rule on the validity of the poll was forwarded by the Ombudsman on behalf of Thammasat University law lecturer Kittipong Kamolthamwong, who claimed the election process was flawed, unfair and unconstitutional.
Ombudsman Pornpetch Vichit-cholachai, as plaintiff, told the court that the fairness of the election had been undermined. He cited the failure to conclude the poll on a single day as stipulated by the Constitution because the election could not be held in 28 constituencies in the southern provinces, where there were no candidates, and candidacy registration was problematic.
Also, ballot counting in other constituencies, which were made public, would impact on the judgement of voters in the 28 constituencies rendering the election unfair, according to Pornpetch.
Moreover, the issuing of several orders by the caretaker government, including the emergency decree, was unfair to other political parties contesting the election, he argued.
Pornpetch said the general election had a severe social, political and economic impact. Although the government had returned power to the people, there were political rallies against the government, which made the caretaker government unable to completely perform its duties and risked becoming unlawful.
“This election exacted a high price as there were fatalities and many were injured. Some people even said if this electoral problem is prolonged and the caretaker government still performs its duty until the end of June, it could affect the country’s GDP growth rate,” he said.
“Why don’t we hold a legitimate election to pave the way for ‘good’ people to govern the country?” he said, adding there was no guarantee the EC would complete the poll in all constituencies.
Pornpetch insisted on the legal power of the Office of the Ombudsman to file the petition with the Constitutional Court.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, who represented the prime minister, said The Office of the Ombudsman is not empowered to petition the Constitutional Court and the court has no power to accept the case.
“Actually, only 10 per cent of voting in the total of 375 constituencies were disrupted and the law empowers the EC to conduct a new round of voting. If you regard the new ballot casting as another election day, Thailand will not be able to hold any election at all,” Phongthep argued.
Phongthep rejected the Ombud-sman’s contention that the emergency decree had created disadvantage for some candidates. He said there had been no complaints from any candidate about the election being unfair.
“To finish the rest of the election will be better than holding a new one. Holding a new election would only result in more deaths and injuries. Moreover, a new election will delay the formation of a new government to June or to October,” he said.
During election candidacy registration and advance voting, there were clashes between anti- and pro-election protesters and policemen, causing scores of casualties.
Phongthep admitted that the election would not resolve the ongoing political conflict, but he argued that it was a democratic process.
When court President Charoon Intachan and judge Twekiat Menakanist asked the deputy PM whether the government would need to take responsibility for being unable to handle the election disruption, Phongthep replied that those who had disrupted the election should take responsibility.
EC chairman Supachai Som-charoen told the court that the commission relied on the principle of law and did nothing wrong in conducting the February 2 election. The election is not unconstitutional and the Ombudsman has no authority to submit a petition to the court to nullify the election, he said.
Judge Thaweekiat asked why the EC did not extend the registration day as many candidates in 28 constituencies could not register. Supachai said the law does not allow the EC to do so. Also, the protesters were determined to block registration, he said.
Judge Nurak Marpraneet asked why didn’t the EC delay the poll as
previously recommended by the court. Supachai said the court had suggested that the EC consult the government, which wanted the poll to go ahead. There is no law to allow a delay unless the Cabinet issued another decree, he said. “Somebody said the court did not make its suggestion clear as it wanted to drag the premier to the jail,” he said.
Judge Suphot Khaimuk asked if the EC was afraid of being prosecuted and could not work without being influenced by the government. Supachai replied that the commission worked independently but had no authority to delay the election. “We are not afraid of being sued, as we already have many lawsuits and I myself sincerely volunteered to take up this job,” he told the judge.
Reacting to Phongthep’s complaint that the caretaker government was given too little time to prepare its explanations, Judge Jaran Pukditanakul said the court had to speed up the hearing because there will be consequences for other elections and an early verdict would be good for the country.
The court will also allow Phongthep to submit an additional statement today. Phongthep said the government is ready to follow the court’s ruling no matter what the ruling. The judges said they would read their verdict at 11am tomorrow.
The court is also set to rule at 9am tomorrow on another petition related to the February 2 election filed earlier by the EC. The EC has queried whether a new Royal Decree would be needed to hold elections in the 28 constituencies that did not have candidates, or whether a Royal Decree was needed for all constituencies. If the court rules a Royal Decree is needed for all constituencies, a new general election will have to be held.