Ethics case plagues PM
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Ethics case plagues PM

Even though PM's Office Minister Pichit Chuenban has suddenly resigned from the cabinet, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin -- who appointed him in a controversial reshuffle -- still finds his fate hanging in mid-air.

Mr Pichit's resignation came on Tuesday evening -- a few hours after he vehemently ruled out his early departure from the cabinet, citing legal issues that he said ensured he was eligible for the role.

He was appointed in a reshuffle late last month amid questions over a previous six-month jail term associated with an attempted bribery case when he represented former PM Thaksin Shinawatra in the controversial Ratchadaphisek land case back in 2008.

The Lawyers Council stripped him of his licence on ethical grounds due to the case.

In an interview from Italy, Mr Srettha praised Mr Pichit for what he said was his "political spirit'' that enabled the cabinet to move on. But this has nothing to do with spirit, it's more about the pressure surrounding the case.

The party knows what the consequences would be if Mr Pichit had stayed on.

Today the charter court is set to decide if it will proceed with the petition by a group of caretaker senators who have alleged that both Mr Pichit and Mr Settha engaged in unethical conduct.

The petition said the PM was fully aware of Mr Pichit's ineligibility due to his prior convictions, but still handed him a ministerial job. As this is a fait accompli case, they asked the court to dismiss both men from their positions under Section 170 (4) and (5) of the charter, which deals with the ethics of ministers.

There were attempts to name Mr Pichit as a minister when Mr Srettha formed the cabinet last August but intense objections by the Senate and other critics made the party decide to play it safe by dropping him from the line-up.

The party opted to name him again, however, probably because of the looming power vacuum as the old Senate recently completed its term. Nonetheless, the upper chamber retains its power to scrutinise the government, in a caretaker capacity.

The charter court once suspended former premier Prayut Chan-o-cha from office over allegations that he exceeded his eight-year limit in power. While there was some grey area that benefited Gen Prayut, the law may not be on side of Mr Srettha or Mr Pichit when it comes to questions of ethics.

This is a tough lesson for the ruling Pheu Thai Party which apparently underestimated the challenge. With such an arrogant attitude, the Srettha cabinet has now encountered another setback by losing its third minister in a row.

The list also includes Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, the minister of foreign affairs, who was upset about not being consulted before the party removed him as deputy prime minister, and deputy finance minister Krisada Chinavicharana, who claimed he did not get his fair share of ministerial assignments.

Some critics have blamed Thaksin's firm management in handling the party, as he is still considered its de facto or honorary leader, and is holding the real cards. But in the case of Mr Pichit, Thaksin went too far by putting his former lawyer in the role despite the man's dubious background.

If Mr Srettha is lucky enough to survive this crisis, he must be careful when making future cabinet picks and ensure the party -- or Thaksin -- pays heed to its critics and the public alike.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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