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Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Thai elections produce
an implausible winner

Bullet The issue: The party of Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon, is the apparent winner of Thailand's parliamentary elections.
Bullet Our view: Thaksin's victory was tarnished by fraud and he may be unable to fulfill his campaign promises.

VIOLENT protests have erupted in Thailand over the results of parliamentary elections, adding to uncertainty over the country's future. The leader of the apparently victorious party, Thaksin Shinawatra, is the biggest question mark. His tenure as prime minister could be cut short by a court decision.

The National Counter Corruption Commission ruled Dec. 26 that Thaksin concealed a small portion of his vast wealth when he served in a previous government.

If the Constitutional Court concurs, he could be barred from office for five years. Thaksin, who amassed his fortune in telecommunications, has vowed to serve as long as the courts allow, "even if it's for a short time."

Police sent reinforcements to 10 provinces, mostly in the south, where demonstrators blocked roads and laid siege to offices where votes were counted.

The government said about 1,000 protesters clashed with 500 police in the southern district of Langu, setting fire to the home of a victorious candidate and burning several vehicles. Twenty officers were injured. Extra protection was ordered for political candidates.

In the elections Saturday, Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai's Democrat Party was ousted by the Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) party, led by Thaksin. As of yesterday, counting had been completed in 273 of the 400 constituencies nationwide.

The prime cause of the election protests was not clear, although officials said that in several areas the protests were instigated by people who had bet large amounts on the election results.

Vinai Seniem, an election official in Songkhla province, said bookmakers were demanding new results. "They do not want to lose millions of baht in bets, so they instigate protests to force a recount and a revote," Vinai said.

Displeased bookmakers can be handled, but there were also reports of vote fraud, which could trigger more serious troubles. Canvassers reportedly went door to door in some constituencies handing out gifts, including cash.

The Election Commission is expected to pass judgment in coming weeks on widespread reports of electoral fraud. It is expected to disqualify some candidates and order dozens of new elections.

The People's Network for Elections, a watchdog group, has recommended that at least 21 winners be disqualified for fraud.

Thailand is still struggling with the aftereffects of the 1997 Asian economic crisis, and discontent over economic conditions evidently was a major factor in the election results. Thaksin won on the basis of big spending and extravagant promises to poor farmers, including debt relief -- promises that seem impossible of fulfillment. His apparent victory could produce more problems for the troubled country.

Federal jurisdiction
over water curtailed

Bullet The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a regulation extending federal jurisdiction to isolated waters within a state.
Bullet Our view: Federal authority over interstate commerce needed to be checked by the high court.

THE notion that federal jurisdiction over states extends as far as a bird can fly has been taken literally by the Army Corps of Engineers in its enforcement of the 1972 Clean Water Act. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, finally has clipped the corps' wings, rejecting the position that it could block a landfill at abandoned Illinois gravel pits that had become filled with water.

Land-use planning traditionally has been a state and local concern. A consortium of 23 suburban Chicago cities and counties accordingly sought and received all necessary approvals and permits from local zoning authorities for its landfill. The Corps of Engineers disclaimed jurisdiction until being informed that migratory birds made stops at the site, then denied the permit.

What do birds have to do with it? It turns out that the 1972 law giving the corps authority over U.S. "navigable waters," defined broadly as "waters of the United States," was interpreted by the corps in 1986 regulations as including all waters that were ever or could be used in interstate commerce. Even more absurd was a preamble to the rules extending jurisdiction to waters that were and could be used as habitat by migratory birds.

The Supreme Court agreed in 1985 that the Clean Water Act could give the federal government jurisdiction over water discharges into areas that might affect navigable waters, such as tributary or adjacent waters or wetlands. However, extending the federal scope to include isolated ponds was a "far cry" from the kind of large or navigable waters that Congress intended to protect, wrote Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The constitutional authority of Congress to regulate interstate commerce has been expanded greatly over the years. Civil rights and environmental groups were concerned that the high court would use the landfill case to make a sweeping restriction of federal authority.

Instead, the ruling was narrowly written to overturn a ludicrous interpretation of the interstate commerce clause -- the claim that migratory birds, accounting for two-thirds of the nation's 2.5 billion to 6 billion winged creatures, could be cited in claiming federal authority over a proposed landfill.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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