Vote-rigging setback for Thaksin

Thailand’s Election Commission on Tuesday found a ­ruling party politician guilty of vote-buying in last year’s general election, dealing a blow to political allies of Thaksin Shinawatra just as the former prime minister appeared poised to return from exile to fight corruption charges.

The commission voted 3-2 to disqualify Yongyuth Tiyapairat, parliament speaker and deputy leader of the People’s Power party, from office for allegedly bribing local officials to canvass for votes for the party ahead of polls on December 23.

The commission’s ruling could lead to the dissolution of the party, which is loyal to Mr Thaksin and now forms the core of the governing coalition, and has renewed political uncertainty after two years of turbulence that has sapped the Thai economy.

The commission’s decision comes amid expectations that Mr Thaksin, who has been in exile since a September 2006 military coup that saw his Thai Rak Thai party banned, would return home on Thursday to fight the corruption charges against him and reclaim an estimated $1.9bn (€1.3bn, £1bn) frozen by the military-installed ­government.

On Wednesday, Mr Thaksin confirmed that he intended to return to Thailand on Thursday: “Yes, I’m going back,’’ he said, Bloomberg reported.

While Mr Thaksin’s critics warned that his home­coming could create chaos, Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister and a political ally of Mr Thaksin, said he did not expect any “unwanted incidents”.

Since the coup, Mr Thaksin has made little secret of his desire to return to Thailand, though he had said he would wait until democracy had been restored to the country and the military­installed administration had handed power back to an elected government.

The installation of a friendly government in the shape of PPP-led coalition after its December election victory was seen as clearing the way for his return. However, the Election Commission’s decision against Mr Yongyuth, a long-time ally of Mr Thaksin, could be a big setback for the former premier.

It also raises doubts about the stability of the government at a time when it is trying to revive the economy by stimulus measures, accelerated spending on infrastructure development.

The news of the commission’s ruling immediately sent the stock market down 1.6 per cent, though it later recovered.

Thailand’s election law says that if senior leaders of a political party are found guilty of wrongdoing the entire party can be dissolved if it is considered that the individual acted on behalf of the party.

The Election Commission has 15 days to forward its ruling against Mr Yongyuth to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether to accept the case. If the court upholds the guilty finding, the Constitutional Court would decide whether to dissolve the PPP.

Thailand’s economy grew by just 4.8 per cent last year, lagging far behind the regional average, and is forecast to grow between 4.4 per cent and 5.5 per cent this year, mainly due to political turbulence.

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