Bhumjaithai teeters on the brink

Bhumjaithai teeters on the brink

Saksayam Chidchob scandal may destroy party, but govt will likely survive

Saksayam: Tied up in scandal'
Saksayam: Tied up in scandal'

Bhumjaithai, the third-largest party in parliament with 71 MPs, is in danger of being dissolved after former secretary-general Saksayam Chidchob was found guilty of concealing assets and using a nominee to hide ownership of a company that won government construction projects.

Some pundits believe Bhumjaithai can survive, as the case may be interpreted as an individual error, but if not, it shouldn't have a major impact on government stability.

Mr Saksayam, the former transport minister, was suspended from cabinet on March 3 last year when the Constitutional Court accepted a petition submitted by 54 opposition MPs following a censure debate in July 2022 in which Mr Saksayam was grilled over his alleged use of a nominee to hold his shares while in office.

The law prohibits a minister or their spouse from holding shares in a commercial company. The court ruled almost unanimously (7:1) on Jan 17 that Mr Saksayam continued to hold shares in Burijarearn Construction and ran the firm through Supawat Kasemsut, his nominee.

Mr Saksayam, a younger brother of the party's co-founder, Newin Chidchob, subsequently saw his ministerial status rescinded, and he quit as a party-list MP. The National Anti-Corruption Commission has also started an investigation into Mr Saksayam's assets.

Chance of dissolution

Wanwichit Boonprong a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, told the Bangkok Post that Mr Saksayam's resignation almost has no impact on his party position because the key figure in the party is his elder brother Newin.

Wanwichit: Damage is done

However, Mr Saksayam's use of a nominee to run his company, which won government construction projects worth billions, and the nominee donating money to Bhumjaithai could lead to the party's dissolution. "If the party were to be dissolved, it would create a political tsunami as the executive committee would be banned from politics [for 10 years]. They are from influential political families, so it will be a significant change," he said.

The party's executive committee consists of 10 veteran politicians, including party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Chada Thaiset (Deputy Interior Minister) and Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn (Labour Minister).

Those who would benefit would be other coalition parties because Bhumjaithai MPs would need to find a new party within 30 days to remain as MPs, so they will likely join other government parties. If that were to happen, the MP numbers of the government would not be affected. However, a reincarnated Bhumjaithai Party would be in trouble as it would be hard for it to win votes in another election.

Coalition reshuffle

Thanaporn Sriyakul, director of the Institute of Politics and Policy Analysis and chairman of the Political Science Association of Kasetsart University, said Mr Saksayam's case differed from that of Pita Limjaroenrat, as the Constitutional Court ruled the former leader of the Move Forward Party's holding of media shares did not necessitate his disqualification.

"In the case of Mr Saksayam, it would cause the popularity of the Bhumjaithai Party to plummet. People perceive the party today as one of corruption and conflicts of interest, which voters cannot accept any more," he said.

Thanaporn: Case reinforces bad image

As a result, party candidates running for parliament may have to spend more money than those in other parties, which could lead to them thinking it's not worth representing Bhumjaithai.

In addition to Mr Saksayam, the party was also hit by three MPs receiving life bans for proxy voting during the second and third readings of the 2020 budget bill, while another MP faces an Election Commission vote-buying charge. "The Saksayam case only reinforces the party's bad image," he said.

When asked if party dissolution would hurt government stability, the answer was "no", he said, adding Bhumjaithai will no longer have political bargaining power.

Even if all of its MPs leave the government, the Pheu Thai-led cabinet can still invite the Democrat Party and Thai Sang Thai to join, meaning the government will still have a House majority with more than 250 MPs.

"At this time, the Bhumjaithai Party must find a way to restore its image as quickly as possible because, in the case of Mr Saksayam, it is not just a matter of stock ownership, but a matter of using his position to benefit the company he owns. This is a clear conflict of interest case," he said.

Still having high hopes

A Bhumjaithai Party source told the Bangkok Post that the offence committed by Mr Saksayam was a personal one, so many party MPs believe it may not lead to the party's dissolution. "In every crisis, there is always an opportunity. We will see new patterns in the party's operations. We hope there will be some positive changes," he said.

The party has also vowed to beef up measures, particularly on receiving donations, to ensure transparency in money transactions and donation sources.

Meanwhile, deputy Move Forward Party (MFP) leader, Pol Maj Gen Supisarn Bhakdinarinath, said the source of the money donated to the party may face more scrutiny following the court ruling.

It may lead to the dissolution of the party if someone files a petition against it asking for an examination of the money donated by Mr Supawat, whom the court said was Mr Saksayam's nominee. This examination would be to determine whether the source was legitimate.

The matter mirrors that of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party when the Constitutional Court ordered its dissolution in 2020 over a loan it accepted from its former leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, which violated the donation limit.

Here, the court concluded the money was from an illegitimate source, leading to the party's dissolution.

Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said there is a high chance Bhumjaithai may be dissolved if someone files a petition.

But he said the MFP disagrees with any party being dissolved for such a reason. It should be the right of the people to decide a party's fate, not an independent organisation. If it is not popular, that party will perish on its own.

"I think the Bhumjaithai Party will not be dissolved, but its popularity is waning," Pol Maj Gen Supisarn said.

"The MFP does not have any ill will against Bhumjaithai. We just hope that it will face the consequences of its deeds under the rule of law."

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