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Thai PM's party accused of paying foes to run

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, May 11 (Reuters) An Election Commission probe alleges Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's party paid two small parties to run in the aborted general election last month boycotted by the main opposition, newspapers today said.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, which could be disbanded if the allegations are proved true, shrugged off the charges in the purported probe report leaked to newspapers.

The leak was a ploy to discredit the four-member Election Commission, which is under intense pressure to quit after a top court declared the April 2 snap election illegal, Thai Rak Thai spokesman Ekaporn Rakkwamsuk said.

''The probe report, which we don't know if it is genuine or fake, presents a one-sided investigation by the panel that did not ask Thai Rak Thai people to defend themselves,'' he said.

The Election Commission was investigating allegations that two senior members of Thaksin's party paid two fringe parties to run, avoiding the problem of an uncontested candidate having to get 20 per cent of the eligible vote to win.

In the end, despite subsequent by-elections, some seats were left unfilled because of the rule, so parliament was unable to meet to form a new government and the court declared the election illegal.

Election Commission chief Wassana Permlarp could not be reached to confirm the authenticity of the purported report, which said the entire Thai Rak Thai party should be held responsible.

But senior commission official Ekachai Warunprapa said the body was due to meet on Tuesday to hear the progress on the investigation, although he declined to say if the leaked report was genuine.

The Manager daily, whose owner started a street campaign to oust Thaksin which eventually led to the political and constitutional crisis, put the 17-page report on its Web site, www.manager.co.th.

It said two Thai Rak Thai leaders gave leaders of the two fringe parties money to pay registration fees of their candidates to compete against Thai Rak Thai.

The purported report by an investigation panel headed by Nam Yimyam, who could not be reached for comment, recommended Wassana order further investigation, according to the report published on the Web site.

The purported findings themselves were the result of a follow-up into earlier investigations that saw the two fringe parties disbanded after the commission found them guilty of taking money from a ''large party'' to contest the April 2 poll.

Thaksin called the election to counter the Bangkok-based street campaign, in which foes accused him of corruption and abuse of power, charges he denies.

He expected it to confirm his massive popularity in the countryside to the metropolitan middle classes, which it did.

But Thai Rak Thai got fewer votes than in its landslide victory in February last year and Thaksin handed over day-to-day power to a deputy while the mess was sorted out.

The Supreme Court, ordered by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej to find a way out of the crisis, says it may be September before all the constitutional problems are overcome and a new government installed.

REUTERS OM KN1718

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