Saturday, February 25, 2006

Watchdogs anticipate "dirtiest election in history"

from today's The Nation:

Corruption Watch, Poll Watch and other oversight groups vowed yesterday to tightly scrutinise campaigning for the April 2 general election amid fears of the biggest vote buying spree in history.

At a press conference, Poll Watch Foundation for Democracy and the People's Network for Elections in Thailand said they would join forces with the new PNET Task Force to monitor electioneering for 50 days until after the Senate election on April 19.

Saiyud Kerdphol, vice president of Poll Watch, said PNET anticipated the election would go down as the dirtiest on record but it would do its best to catch graft and abuses of authority, particularly since the public lacked trust in the Election Commission's ability to conduct elections fairly.

PNET volunteer coordinator Somchai Srisutthiyakorn condemned Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's decision to dissolve the House and call a poll as it was not made with a democratic conscience but with the aim of gaining a political advantage.

The task force would hold a policy debate among political party leaders at Thammasat University on March 24, he said.

Corruption Watch Group held a separate press conference pledging to also monitor the election.

The group would check on candidates' finances and their freedom to appear in the media, the benefits given to civil servants, and the caretaker government's use of authority, especially during the last 30 days, said Warakorn Samkoset, rector of Dhurakijpundit University.

Tortrakul Yomnak, president of the Engineers Society of Thailand, said his group, the Auditor-General's Office and other agencies would look out for sweetheart deals like concession approvals or any contracts made in exchange for favours.

They would work harder in the final week prior to the election - proven to be the most likely time for corruption, he said. In the last three days, the group would air bulletins on ThaiTV 2 every day from 10pm-11pm.

Network member Narong Piriyaanek predicted the media would be totally under the influence of a certain party [ed. Thai Rak Thai - the ruling party, since most TV stations are government owned], while Weera Somkwamkid questioned the EC for setting the election date on April 2, which was too early and gave the government the upper hand.