A hot potato has landed in the lap of the Election Commission and it is putting the election regulatory authority's credibility and integrity to the test again.
Activist Srisuwan Janya last Friday lodged a petition with the EC demanding a probe into the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) which accepted a donation from a Chinese businessman who was granted Thai citizenship.
According to news reports, Chaiyanat Kornchayanant is linked to the pub in Yannawa district that was raided last Tuesday night, though the businessman denies it, and has threatened legal action against media outlets who link him to the pub. The pub had no licence, and dozens of Chinese clients tested positive for illegal drug use.
The raid is a another case, among several others, that has tarnished the image of the police force. The public is entitled to ask how can such illegal pub open in the heart of the capital without the knowledge of police?
Surprisingly, PPRP’s chief strategist Somsak Thepsutin, who is also justice minister, admitted the ruling party had accepted the 3 million baht donation from Mr Chaiyanat.
There is nothing wrong with a party accepting a donation from businessmen. Anyone can support democracy by backing the party of their choice.
But it’s different if such a donation comes from illegal businesses or foreign nationals.
Under the Section 74 of the organic law, parties are prohibited from receiving donations or benefits from foreigners, foreign juristic entities or locally registered entities with a foreign major shareholder. Violation of the law can lead to the party’s dissolution.
A number of troubling questions are raised in this case.
First, did Mr Chaiyanat hold dual nationality when he made the donation? If he had dual citizenship at that time, the PPRP could be held in violation of Section 74 of the organic law.
Second, when was he granted Thai nationality? Was it just before his donation? If so, who granted it?
Granting nationality comes under the authority of the Interior Ministry, supervised by Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda, a brother-in-arms of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Third, why has this Chinese businessman donated such a large amount of money to the PPRP? Is it really because of his faith in the Thai democracy, or does he expect a return?
Fourth, where did the capital to run the illegal pub come from? Are there Thai nominees in the business?
The EC must be independent, fair and neutral in scrutinising this case.
In the past, the EC has asked the Constitutional Court to dissolve several parties, including the Thai Raksa Chart Party, an offshoot of the Pheu Thai party, and the progressive Future Forward Party.
In the Future Forward Party case, it was dissolved because the party sought loans to fund its activities from its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
While the rulings in this cases were disputed, many still question the EC’s dismissal of accusations against the pro-military PPRP over wrongdoing in a fundraising event in December 2019.
The latest case of the PPRP’s accepting a donation will test the EC’s credibility, integrity and impartiality when Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, who is PPRP leader, give a simple “No” when asked if the party would be dissolved.