19 Aug 2008

Decision deferred over disbanding of Thailand's ruling party

6:56 pm on 19 August 2008

Thailand's Election Commission deferred a decision on Tuesday on whether to recommend that the ruling People Power Party be disbanded for electoral fraud, saying it needed to investigate further.

It said it would vote on the question on September.

The five commissioners are reportedly split on the issue, and analysts say the Constitutional Court, which has the final say on the matter, is likely to endorse the commission's findings, although it may take several months to implement any ruling.

If it rules against the party, at least 33 senior party leaders from Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to Finance Minister Surapong Suebwonglee would automatically lose their jobs and be barred from politics for five years.

The case before the commission stems from the guilty verdict handed down in July against a deputy party leader for vote fraud in December's election. He was also banned from politics for five years.

Under the constitution drawn up by the army after a 2006 coup, an entire party can be disbanded and all of its executives barred from politics if just one member of the party's leadership is found guilty of vote fraud.

Thai newspapers have reported that the party is preparing for the worst and lining up a "shell" party to admit all its MPs, who could try to cobble together another coalition government. If that failed, another election - the fourth in four years - would almost certainly follow.