Reform committee proposes lifetime ban for election cheats
In an effort to clean up Thailand’s elections, the assembly drafting national reforms is proposing that politicians convicted of election fraud or other violations be banned from running for office for life, face prison terms of up to 10 years, and if their party leaders were aware of the cheating and failed to act then they too would face severe penalties.
The measures would be contained in organic laws that need to be drafted and passed to make the country’s new constitution operational. Under Thailand’s previous constitution, those convicted of poll fraud and other serious election violations were subject to five-year bans from politics. Around 200 or so politicians were slapped with such bans by the Constitutional Court either for violating election laws or for being executives of political parties that committed violations. Political parties were also dissolved for violations.
Cleaning up Thailand’s elections has been a contentious issue. Opponents of the previous government and its earlier political party incarnations attributed their electoral victories to widespread vote buying, cheating and intimidation. Supporters of those governments argued that vote buying has been a long-standing and traditional quid-pro-quo between politicians and their constituents, especially in rural areas, and is not viewed as a dirty tactic.
Independent poll monitoring agencies have documented widespread vote buying and other violations, but nonetheless have said the results of national elections have genuinely reflected the will of the majority of voters. Voters, in general, many poll watchers have said, have become smarter and while they might accept money from more than one candidate, they are voting for the candidate they actually prefer.
Others contend that vote buying, poll rigging, ballot box stuffing and other forms of cheating are a problem that could affect the outcome of a close election, and so the problems need to be solved and the system cleaned up before that happens.
The reform assembly is also proposing a 20-year statute of limitations for candidates accused of committing poll fraud. Reformers recommended that candidates must be prohibited from offering support to finance traditional festivities, such as weddings, funerals and ordinations in the constituencies they contest to prevent “indirect vote-buying”, said Wanchai Sornsri, a member of the panel proposing the measures.
The panel proposed that eligible voters who fail to exercise their voting rights be stripped of some rights, according to Seree Suwanpanont, chairman of the committee on political reform. Government officials who fail to vote should face harsher penalties than the public and be subjected to disciplinary action, he added.
The panel also wants investigators from the Election Commission to have power to launch criminal investigations in poll fraud cases.
Other proposals include easing the financial burdens of political parties and candidates by having the state contribute to some costs or expenses. For example, the state may help pay for printing campaign posters.
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