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Thai Election Commissioners Sent to Jail

A Thai criminal court has jailed three election commissioners who oversaw Thailand's discredited April elections. The court found that the three men, who are seen as allies of embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, allowed unqualified candidates to run in the elections.

The court found the three commissioners had violated election laws and abused their power while overseeing the April parliamentary elections, and sentenced them to four-year prison terms.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called elections on April 2 after weeks of demonstrations demanding his resignation for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

The major opposition parties boycotted that election, and Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party won an easy victory. But the boycott left many seats unfilled, and parliament was unable to convene.

The election commissioners organized a rerun on April 23 to fill the vacant seats, and allowed some candidates from April 2 to run in different constituencies - a move seen as favoring Mr. Thaksin's party. After King Bhumipol Adulyadej called for the courts to "clear up the political mess," Thailand's senior judges nullified the vote.

The verdict was seen as a victory for Mr. Thaksin's enemies. Ongart Klampaiboon, spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party, said the court's decision would clear the way for "free and fair elections" later in the year.

"Of course we respect the Court's decision, and we hope that this motion of the court will help the process of democracy in Thailand," he said.

The verdict comes just days after a royal decree setting the date of new general elections for October 15.

The uncertainty over the elections has left Thailand in the grip of a political crisis. But Panitan Wattanyagorn, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist, says that with recent events, the outlook for Thai politics is more favorable.

"The uncertainty is somewhat reduced by the [October 15] election date being set quite firmly," he said. "We hope that the election date will clear up some of the issues and push Thailand forward in a recovery path without any major violence."

Mr. Thaksin had stepped aside after the elections were nullified, but has since resumed power, saying the country needed a strong leader. His opponents are still calling for him to resign, and have threatened further demonstrations if he does not.

Analysts are forecasting that Thai Rak Thai will be returned to power after the October 15 vote, but with a reduced majority.