BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court sent three election commissioners to jail for four years on Tuesday for mishandling April’s inconclusive general election, clearing the way for a new poll to end a long-running political crisis.
Both the Bangkok Criminal Court and the Appeals Court denied them bail after the ruling, which came three months after King Bhumibol Adulyadej told judges to clean up the mess left behind by the April election, which was annulled subsequently.
Their lawyer said they would appeal against the sentences.
The commissioners were accused of favoring Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s party in the election and rebuffed repeated calls to quit — seen as a prerequisite for holding a re-run acceptable to all political parties.
The jail terms, as well as the court’s removal of the commissioners’ voting rights for 10 years, are likely to make them ineligible for public office, meaning a new commission will have to be chosen.
The government’s top lawyer believed the voting rights ban suggested they had to go immediately, a spokesman said.
“The secretary-general of the Council of State has checked the constitution and believes that the withdrawal of the voting rights may affect the qualifications of the three commissioners,” government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee told reporters.
Some private legal experts said the issue should be determined in the appeals process. But others said the Supreme Court, responsible for nominating candidates to the Election Commission, should start the process immediately.
“Just use common sense. How could election commissioners whose voting rights have been withdrawn run a free and fair election and ask people to come to vote?” said Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law lecturer at Thammasat University.
A Supreme Court spokesman declined to comment.
The king sprang a surprise last week by approving a new election on October 15, saying he wanted a swift end to the political stalemate that has paralyzed government decision-making and caused economists to trim economic growth forecasts.
Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party is expected to win the October run-off with a reduced majority.
The whole saga started at the end last year when a former business associate launched a public campaign accusing Thaksin of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.
Despite massing more than 100,000 supporters on one occasion outside Government House, the campaign to oust Thaksin looked destined to fail until his family sold off their stake in the family telecoms empire for a tax-free $1.9 billion.
Thaksin called the snap election to counter anger in Bangkok at the deal. But an opposition boycott led to an inconclusive result, and ultimately the decision to annul the entire poll.