Following the decision of the suddenly even-handed Election Commission to call for a re-run of the Bangkok governor’s election, political office holders around the country are looking over their shoulders and wondering if a similar fate will befall them.
Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn left off appearing on Suthep Thaugsuban’s stage and explained that although MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra comfortably won last year’s election, his campaign was illegally helped by speeches maligning his major opponent, Pol Gen Pongsapat Pongcharoen of the Pheu Thai Party. Not that MR Sukhumbhand made these speeches himself. They were made by his ‘helpers’, including, er, Suthep Thaugsuban.
The novel concept here is that the legality of a candidate’s campaign is decided by the action of anyone who is, in the opinion of the Election Commission, a supporter. And to qualify as a supporter it seems to be sufficient to heave yourself onto a stage (like Commissioner Somchai and the PDRC and I’d be interested to see where that shoe falls).
So what did Suthep and others do that so incensed the Commission? Well, and I know we will all be shocked at this, it seems he was somewhat intemperate in his speech. Fancy that.
He reportedly cited an article by former royal policeman and ardent royalist Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn which accused Thaksin Shinawatra of trying to engineer a presidential system of government by manipulating the red-shirt movement.
Suthep and other leading Democrats allegedly claimed that this treasonous but totally unproven objective of Thaksin was, by association, shared by the red-shirt movement, hence by another association with the Pheu Thai Party, hence by yet another association with the Pheu Thai candidate for governor of Bangkok.
Oh wow. I wonder when the Election Commission is going to announced that the missing Malaysian Airlines plane is in Diego Garcia, or Bagram, or Okinawa, stripped by the CIA of its secret millions in cash. Or its cyberwar-plotting passengers. Or whatever the next hare-brained conspiracy theorist can dream up.
Now the fall guy in all this is the feller who has been found guilty of nothing and thought, until just now, he was governor. Those who cast the improper aspersions, hence incurring the expense of another election, will apparently walk free.
Commissioner Somchai is quoted as saying that the EC is now applying a new standard for campaign speeches. These should be ‘about policy and for benefits to the country more than campaigns maligning each other’.
And which planet exactly were these Election Commissioners recruited from?
And it’s not as if this redefined standard of what is acceptable in a campaign speech (by the candidate, the candidate’s supporters, or anyone who can get onto the candidate’s stage and seize the microphone) was carefully enunciated prior to the election.
So not only is this EC decision based on guilt by association where the truly guilty enjoy impunity and the innocent get punished, but it is tantamount to moving the goalposts a year after the ball has been kicked.
So you can understand why a certain member of a Tambon Administrative Organization who was elected in Bueng Kan Province a year ago is nervously expecting an EC call over that comment his wife made in the heat of the campaign about the exact length and circumference of his losing opponent’s virile member. He has consulted his lawyers and is prepared to argue that everyone knows that the allegation was metaphorical, a gross exaggeration and with absolutely no foundation in truth. Especially his wife.
More far-sighted politicos are looking forward to future campaigns and wondering how they can effectively muzzle their own supporters. If the EC has a bag full of yellow cards ready to be brandished at any time, as Commissioner Somchai claims, there must be some salivating among deputies ready to step into acting positions as soon as their superiors’ elections are invalidated.
What is to stop such people deliberately planting a time-bomb of indiscretion in their boss’s campaign, then shopping them to the EC? They will escape punishment and get the top job.
Or how about those industries that thrive on campaigns, like bill-board manufacturers, stage and microphone rental agencies and the local rent-a-mob outfits? The more yellow cards, the more frequent will be elections and the more regular their business income. The EC has now shown them how to achieve this at minimal cost to themselves.
But other analysts have come to a different conclusion. This is, they claim, not the start of a new trend in electoral honesty, perish the thought, but another case of selective prosecution, like the NACC’s light-speed indictment of the Prime Minister. The EC, they argue, was in danger of looking woefully lopsided in its actions. What better way to realign their image than going after the one elected Democrat who never wanted the job in the first place?
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).