Members of the Palang Pracharath Party attending the costly dinner included party leader Uttama Savanayana, third from left. The banquet raised 600 million baht, although most attendees were paying more for their political influence than for the smoked salmon, prawn ravioli soup and cod braised in soy sauce. (Photos by Patipat Janthong)
The result of an Election Commission (EC) probe into a lavish fundraising banquet organised by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) seems to raise more questions than answers.
The poll agency raised eyebrows when it told the media on Tuesday it found no wrongdoing committed by the pro-military party, as alleged by political activist Srisuwan Janya.
It said "there was no foreign party among the 40 juristic entities and 84 individuals who gave donations at the banquet", which took place at Impact convention centre Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi on Dec 19. As a result there were no grounds for its dissolution.
But Mr Srisuwan, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, who filed the complaint against the party, was baffled with the probe results. So were members of the public and some major political parties, which cried foul over the result.
In his complaint, Mr Srisuwan asked the EC to look into claims that civil servants and state agencies made donations at the event. These were acts widely observed by media outlets and could be wrongdoing in relation to Section 76 of the organic political party law.
Foreign involvement, as concluded by the poll agency, was never his concern, the activist said.
Mr Srisuwan also asked the EC to look into allegations that some of the donors were companies that have run at a loss for years, but still managed to make donations. Quite a few were concessionaires that won project bids from the military regime. Critics found such donations fishy. However, there were no answers to such crucial questions.
The Chinese-style banquet, with 200 tables at a cost of 3 million baht each, reportedly raised 650 million baht for the party. The allegations of possible wrongdoing emerged when several journalists discovered table signs with the names of state agencies on them, which suggested they could be donors. Among them were the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The scandal-riddled EC under Ittiporn Boonpracong failed to clarify why it reached its conclusion -- seen by many as aiming to whitewash the PPRP.
A number of critics lashed out at the EC ruling, which took almost two months to reach compared to the speedy and harsh decision against the anti-military party, Thai Raksa Chart that was dissolved with short shrift.
EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma, who is party registrar, told the media the charge of foreign involvement -- which Mr Srisuwan insisted he did not allege -- was just one count against the PPRP, and other counts were to follow. He was to later submit the ruling to the commissioners.
In a media interview yesterday Mr Ittiporn stood by the ruling, dismissing concerns. He said the probe into the case was over and that the PPRP was in the clear and had avoided dissolution. The EC chairman dismissed calls to reopen the inquiry.
Mr Ittiporn must be aware that this affair will only intensify public suspicions about the EC, which is a major instrument that should guarantee the election -- the first in almost eight years -- is free and fair.
Mr Ittiporn and the EC owe the public an explanation about the banquet, and must stop disappointing people.