Thai graft body to charge lawmakers over Senate move

Thai anti-government protesters wave national flags during a rally in Bangkok on 7 January 2014 Protests are continuing in Bangkok ahead of a mass demonstration on 13 January

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Thailand's anti-corruption body says it will bring charges against more than 300 politicians, mostly from the governing party, for trying to change the constitution.

A court ruled in November that the government move to make the Senate fully elected was unconstitutional.

The graft body said PM Yingluck Shinawatra would not face charges.

The move comes as Thailand heads for a general election on 2 February, amid opposition protests.

Ms Yingluck called the polls last month in a bid to end demonstrations by opposition supporters in Bangkok.

Analysis

The decision by the NACC to press charges against 308 MPs and Senators casts yet another shadow over the 2 February election.

The constitution requires parliament to sit within 30 days of the election, with a minimum of 95% of the seats filled, and then another 180 days to fill 100%. That looks like an impossible goal right now.

The accused - who include 223 MPs from the governing Pheu Thai party - now have two weeks to testify to the commission. If after that it finds there is a prima facie case against them, they would normally be immediately suspended from official duties. However, parliament has already been dissolved, and they will still be allowed to contest the election. But they would likely be barred from taking their seats if the Senate then decides to impeach them. These would have to be re-contested in by-elections.

But that is not the only problem. Anti-government protests blocked candidates from registering in 29 constituencies last month. The candidates have petitioned the Supreme Court to recognise their registration anyway, but it is not clear how the court will rule. The inability to hold elections in those 28 constituencies would leave fewer than 95% of the 500 assembly seats filled.

Political turmoil has once again left crucial decisions in the hands of Thailand's extra-parliamentary bodies - the top courts, the Election Commission and the NACC. These bodies are widely viewed as unsympathetic to the Pheu Thai party. And if the election cannot produce a government, the military could then step in. Tellingly, the army commander has repeatedly refused to rule out a coup in recent weeks.

The protesters want Ms Yingluck's government replaced with an unelected "People's Council".

They say her government's populist policies - which they allege are controlled by her brother, ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra - have created a flawed democracy.

Ms Yingluck's party draws considerable support from rural voters and would be likely to win the election - which the main opposition party is now boycotting.

'Long-term solutions'

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) ruling will lead to another investigation and could potentially result in the 308 lawmakers being banned from politics.

The Constitutional Court last year ruled against the proposed amendment. The Senate was made partly appointed under a new constitution introduced in 2007, after the military removed Mr Thaksin in a bloodless coup.

Mr Thaksin's opponents see the constitution as a vital check against his influence, analysts say.

Court rulings have in the past been a key factor amid political turbulence in Thailand.

In December 2008, a government of Mr Thaksin's allies fell from power after a court disbanded their political party for electoral fraud, allowing the opposition to form a government.

Thailand's troubles

  • Sep 2006: Army ousts Thaksin Shinawatra
  • Dec 2007: Pro-Thaksin party wins election
  • Aug 2008: Thaksin flees Thailand
  • Dec 2008: Huge anti-Thaksin protests; court bans ruling party; Abhisit Vejjajiva comes to power
  • Mar-May 2010: Huge pro-Thaksin protests; dozens killed in army crackdown
  • Jul 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra elected PM
  • Nov 2013: Anti-government protests
  • Dec 2013: Ms Yingluck calls election

The protesters, meanwhile, say they will prevent the election from going ahead in February.

On Tuesday thousands marched through a district of the capital in a second preparatory march ahead of a planned large-scale demonstration on 13 January that the protesters say will shut down Bangkok.

National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut said Ms Yingluck was prepared to declare emergency rule "if the protests seem likely to escalate into violence".

The political unrest is the worst to hit Thailand since the protests of 2010, which were against a government led by the current opposition party and left more than 90 people dead.

Both sides have called on the military - which has not ruled out another coup - to support them.

On Tuesday, Ms Yingluck played down coup rumours, saying she believed "the military commanders will think of long-term solutions rather than employing various measures unacceptable to many countries".

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