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EC needs more than new commissioners

By Daniel Ten Kate
4 August 2006 13:45
As the Supreme Court and Senate search for politically neutral people to fill the vacant Election Commission, analysts say its responsibilities could use an overhaul as well.

The 1997 Constitution originally wanted the EC to ensure free and fair elections. But the Constitutional Court granted it a judicial role as well; the EC could slap a politician with a “red card” that would ban him or her from running in an election for one year.

Original EC member Gotham Arya saw the potential pitfalls in giving the EC extensive powers five years ago. In 2001, he told Time magazine: “We don’t mind having a new system that is more practical, even if it means curbing our power. But we will mind if it means we become ineffective. There is also a danger in having too much power.”

Indeed, much of the opposition to the last EC stemmed from discontent with the enormous power placed in the hands of the four commissioners who oversaw the April 2 election. The watchdog had the final say on all election-related decisions – including nullification and candidate disqualification – and could not be impeached without a functioning National Counter Corruption Commission.

Most of the power granted to the EC was handed to it by the Constitutional Court in a series of decisions in the late 1990s. The court held that the EC had both “fact-finding investigation” and “adjudication powers” – essentially meaning the body was on equal terms with the courts.

“That was a deviation from the Constitution,” said Kaewsan Atibodhi, a former senator, Constitution drafter and candidate for the new EC. “The job of the EC is now huge. I think the EC should just manage the election, not play a judicial role.”

As well as prosecuting cases of individual candidates, the EC’s powers were further strengthened in 2003 when the Constitutional Court restricted the Administrative Court’s ability to overturn commission decisions. The Constitutional Court took that case based upon Article 266 of the 1997 charter – which gives it the power to settle disputes concerning “the powers and duties of organs under the Constitution” – and ruled that EC decisions were “conclusive.”

The Administrative Court upheld that view right up until April 25, when His Majesty the King gave the judges the following instructions: “When an election is not democratic, you should look carefully into the administrative issues. I ask you to do the best you can. If you cannot do it, then it should be you who resign, not the government, for failing to do your duty. Carefully review the vows you have made.”

Just four days earlier, the Administrative Court dismissed a case that called for a new election because the ballot booths were placed within public view – the same reason for which the Constitutional Court voided the election a month later. In its decision, dated April 21, the Central Administrative Court said: “The Election Commission’s authority to order another election when there is credible evidence pointing out that the election is not carried out with honesty is the authority given to it under the Constitution. It is not an administrative power.”

Even after the judges nullified the April 2 election, they still had no legal authority to remove the election commissioners from office. As such, they resorted to just telling them to leave.

When that didn’t work, the Criminal Court accepted a malfeasance lawsuit against the three remaining election commissioners, and last week the court found them guilty and denied them bail, which automatically removed them from power. All in all, it proved an exhaustive way to get a new EC. The Criminal Court verdict itself should act as a new check on the powers of the commissioners. Any missteps in the future will surely generate a swarm of malfeasance lawsuits.

It remains to be seen if the flurry of legal action against the EC in the past few months will reverse the case precedents that had defined the EC’s role for the past five years or so. Either way, some think that the election watchdog’s ability to disqualify candidates should morph into the way it handles the dissolution of political parties: gather evidence that can be submitted to a court for a final decision.

“The EC can make a report to file to either the Administrative or Constitutional courts to make a decision regarding the disqualification of a candidate,” said Jade Donavanik, dean of law at Siam University, in an interview yesterday. “It should be the decision of the court, not the EC.”

All of these issues should be clarified in the next round of constitutional reform. Most of the problems concerning the EC stem from the charter’s failure to define how the independent bodies interact with each other.

Some say it won’t make any difference who serves on the EC as long as the Constitution remains unchanged. The recent power struggle between the courts and the EC suggests to some that both institutions must take a step back and give more power to the people.

“We need to reduce the power of the EC and the courts, and increase the role of the people in exact terms,” said legal expert Kanin Boonsuwan, who helped draft the 1997 Constitution. “Right now they are not involved in the process of selecting those who serve on independent bodies. We must open the door to get the people directly involved, and then let them do the job. Otherwise, it will be chaos.”

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เห็นด้วย ไม่เห็นด้วย
1. โปรดงดเว้น การใช้คำหยาบคาย ส่อเสียด ดูหมิ่น กล่าวหาให้ร้าย สร้างความแตกแยก หรือกระทบถึงสถาบันอันเป็นที่เคารพ
2. ทุกความคิดเห็นไม่เกี่ยวข้องกับผู้ดำเนินการเว็บไซต์ และไม่สามารถนำไปอ้างอิงทางกฎหมายได้
3. ทีมงานเว็บมาสเตอร์ขอสงวนสิทธิ์ในการลบความคิดเห็น โดยไม่ต้องชี้แจงเหตุผลใดๆ ต่อเจ้าของความคิดเห็นนั้น
4. เพื่อให้การแสดงความคิดเห็นเป็นไปตามกฎกติกาที่วางไว้ ทางผู้จัดการออนไลน์ได้ปรับปรุงระบบการกรองคำให้เข้มงวดยิ่งขึ้น กรุณารอสักครู่ ก่อนที่ความคิดเห็นของท่านจะถูกนำขึ้นแสดง
5. ผู้ร่วมแสดงความคิดเห็นสามารถร่วมตรวจสอบข้อความที่ไม่เหมาะสมได้ โดยการกดปุ่ม "แจ้งลบ" หรือส่งอีเมลแจ้งมาที่ หรือ ซึ่งทีมงานจะทำการตรวจสอบ และลบข้อความดังกล่าวโดยเร็วที่สุด หรืออย่างช้าภายใน 3 วันทำการ
เพื่อให้การแสดงความคิดเห็นเป็นไปตามกฎกติกาที่วางไว้ ทางผู้จัดการออนไลน์ได้ปรับปรุงระบบการกรองคำให้เข้มงวดยิ่งขึ้น กรุณารอสักครู่ ก่อนที่ความคิดเห็นของท่านจะถูกนำขึ้นแสดง
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