Court accepts petition against PM
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Court accepts petition against PM

Court votes against suspending Srettha from PM duties while awaiting ruling

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, left, is welcomed at Haneda airport, Japan, on Wednesday. (Photo: Government House)
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, left, is welcomed at Haneda airport, Japan, on Wednesday. (Photo: Government House)

The Constitutional Court has accepted a petition seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his decision to appoint a minister with a prison record. However, the court has voted 5-4 not to suspend him from duty pending its ruling.

Nine charter court judges convened on Thursday morning to deliberate on the petition filed by a group of 40 caretaker senators. By a vote of 6-3, the judges agreed to accept the petition and ordered Mr Srettha to provide an explanation within 15 days.

Mr Srettha, who is currently in Japan, said he respected the court’s decision and would hold talks with his legal team to prepare his defence.

“I respect the court’s decision [to accept the petition]. When I entered politics, I was ready to be scrutinised,” he said.

The court also voted 8-1 to reject a similar petition against former Prime Minister’s Office Minister Pichit Chuenban, citing his resignation on Tuesday.

Pichit tendered his resignation in what was seen as a bid to spare Mr Srettha from possible legal wrangles associated with appointing him as a cabinet minister despite his eligibility being in question.

Previously, the caretaker senators had asked the Constitutional Court if both Mr Srettha and Pichit should be terminated from their positions under Section 170 (4) and (5) of the charter, which deals with the ethics of cabinet ministers.

Before Pichit was given the cabinet post, he was an adviser to Mr Srettha. But long before that Pichit was former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s lawyer in the “lunchbox cash” scandal and served a prison sentence for attempting to bribe the Supreme Court. This led to questions about his eligibility to serve as a cabinet minister.

On June 25, 2008, the Supreme Court sentenced Pichit and two of his colleagues to six months in prison after they had tried to bribe Supreme Court officials by handing them a lunchbox with a paper bag containing 2 million baht in cash a fortnight earlier.

All three were representing Thaksin and his ex-wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra in the Ratchadaphisek land case, for which Thaksin was sentenced to two years in prison in 2008.

Mr Srettha said earlier that he had asked the Council of State, the government’s legal arm, for legal advice on the appointment of Pichit before submitting the new cabinet line-up for royal endorsement.

Anusorn Iamsa-ard, a Pheu Thai Party MP, said he believed Mr Srettha will not be distracted from his job following the court’s decision.

Mr Anusorn said Pheu Thai and other coalition parties have thrown their full support behind Mr Srettha and are confident the government will be able to complete a full four-year term.

He also dismissed speculation that the ruling party might choose someone to replace Mr Srettha as prime minister if he fails to clear himself in court.

“Pheu Thai will not change horses in midstream,” Mr Anusorn said.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, told the Bangkok Post that the petition submitted by the 40 senators was really aimed at Mr Srettha, not Pichit.

“It looks as if Mr Srettha has now been taken hostage. Pheu Thai now has to assess the political situation,” Mr Olarn said.

“Mr Srettha has 15 days to submit a defence. But If he cannot clear himself, the court may suspend him as prime minister and this could subsequently lead to a change of prime minister.”

In this scenario, Pheu Thai leader Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin’s daughter, could replace Mr Srettha, Mr Olarn said.

Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the court’s decision not to suspend Mr Srettha, saying the he can continue to carry out government policies uninterrupted.

In a related development, lawyer Thanatenat Sukhonthapan on Thursday asked the police Anti-Corruption Division to investigate the legality of the petition filed against Mr Srettha.

Mr Thanatenat said the names and signatures of some senators on the petition may be forged. He said some senators had complained earlier that they did not sign the petition and that their names appeared on it without their consent.

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