BANGKOK – Thailand’s anti-corruption commission says it will seek to charge hundreds of ruling party politicians over a failed attempt to amend the constitution, intensifying the country’s political crisis ahead of a planned shutdown of Bangkok on Monday.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission whose mandate is to investigate possible abuses of power has announced it is moving to impeach 308 politicians for drafting or proposing changes to the constitution to make the senate, parliament’s upper house, fully elected.
Most of the politicians are from the ruling Pheu Thai party who are candidates contesting snap elections called for February 2.
It was not immediately clear if the commission’s announcement will affect their candidacies.
If found guilty of abuse of power they could be banned from politics for five years.
Citing the findings of a preliminary investigation, the commission cleared 73 other politicians, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who is facing multiple threats to her rule, including the shutdown by anti-government protesters that is expected to paralyse the capital for days.
Legal rulings have played a pivot role in Thailand’s turbulent politics in the past and officials of Ms Yingluck’s party have warned the government could fall victim to a judicial or military coup.
Pheu Thai spokesman Anusorn Lamsa-ard said the MPs charged were only doing their duty.
“They were MPs and their job was to issue laws,” he said.
The commission’s investigation followed a ruling by the Constitution Court last November that the move to make the senate fully elected was illegal, which prompted an angry response by Pheu Thai officials who claimed it amounted to an attempt to overthrow the government.
Government critics feared that having a fully elected senate would give greater dominance to Ms Yingluck’s billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra who they accuse of running the country from Dubai where he is living to avoid a tw- year jail sentence for corruption.
Ms Yingluck says her government is ready to declare a state of emergency if needed next week as anti-government protesters prepare to blockade at least 20 major intersections across the capital, paralysing government offices.
Pro-government red shirt supporters plan to stage counter-rallies across the country except in Bangkok and southern provinces, which are strongholds of the opposition Democract party, raising fears of clashes between rival groups.
Sunisa Letphakkawat, spokeswoman for the government, has raised suspicions about a “secret” plan by anti-government leaders to organise a small violent attack on protesters during the shutdown, which would set a military coup in motion.
But anti-government movement leader Suthep Thaugsuban denies any secret plan despite meeting top military commanders in private last weekend.
“If a coup happens, it would result from the own faults of the government,” he said.
National Security chief Paradorn Pattanatabut told reporters an emergency decree would be imposed if protests seem likely to escalate into violence such as attacks on people, buildings or acts of terrorism.
Nearly 15,000 police and soldiers will be deployed in the Thai capital next week for the planned “shutdown” of Bangkok by demonstrators trying to overthrow the government, officials said today.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called February elections following weeks of opposition street protests. But the demonstrators have vowed to block the vote, which they fear will only prolong the political dominance of her billionaire family.
The protesters say they will occupy the capital from January 13 until they win their battle to topple the government.
They plan to set up stages around the city, preventing officials from going to work and cutting off power and water to state buildings.
The government is mobilising 14,880 police and soldiers for the mass rally, national police spokesman Piya Uthayo said in a televised briefing.
“Our goal is to prevent any violence or clashes,” he said. Thai stocks and the baht currency have fallen sharply on concerns that the deepening crisis will scare off foreign tourists and international investment.
Singapore Airlines has already cancelled 19 flights to Bangkok between 14 January and 25 February.
Bangkok city authorities have instructed 146 schools to close on Monday because of the shutdown.
Officials say the government is ready to declare a state of emergency if needed to deal with any unrest, following several outbreaks of street violence in which eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and hundreds wounded.
Critics say the protesters want to provoke fresh clashes in the hope of triggering a military coup on the pretext of restoring order — an accusation the demonstrators deny.
Thailand has been periodically shaken by political bloodshed since Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.
The demonstrators, who largely comprise southerners, royalists, middle-class Thais and urban elite, accuse the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician of corruption, and say he controls his sister’s government from his self-exile in Dubai.
They want an unelected “people’s council” to run the country to oversee vague reforms, such as an end to alleged “vote buying” through populist policies, before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.
Yingluck’s government still enjoys strong support in the north and northeast of the country and is expected to win the February 2 election if it goes ahead.