Problems grow for Thai PM

By Arnaud Dubus, Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Thai Constitutional court accepts case in relation to unlawful transfer of high-ranking civil servant – could mark the beginning of the end for embattled PM Yingluck's government

Thai Constitutional court accepts case in relation to unlawful transfer of high-ranking civil servant – could mark the beginning of the end for embattled PM Yingluck's government

BANGKOK - Thailand's Constitutional Court has accepted a case against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in relation to the unlawful transfer of a high-ranking civil servant -- a step which could mark the beginning of the end for the embattled prime minister and her government.

Court spokesperson Pimiol Thampitakpong told reporters Wednesday that judges had unanimously decided to accept the case. The court is expected to take 4-5 days to reach a decision.

In an earlier ruling, the country's Supreme Administrative Court said March 7 that the 2011 transfer was unlawful, meaning that the Constitutional Court can unseat Yingluck and her cabinet within days if it agrees with the decision. Such a move would likely further inflame political passions as pro-government protesters -- the "Red Shirt" movement -- are preparing a mass gathering in Bangkok for Saturday.

The case goes back to September 2011, when Yingluck transferred Thawil Pliensri from his position as secretary-general of the National Security Council, a government agency, to a powerless adviser position. The move was done to give Thawil’s position to outgoing police chief Wichean Potephosree, who, himself, was kicked out of the police leadership to make way for the new Police General Priewpan Damapong, a relative of Yingluck.

The administrative court ruled in March that the transfer was illegal. The Constitutional Court is now examining if the transfer breaches constitutional clauses which stipulate that the prime minister cannot transfer a civil servant for his or her personal benefit, unless provided by law.

The fact that the new police chief was the brother of the ex-wife of Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra -- a deeply divisive figure in Thai politics who led the country from 2001 to 2006 before being overthrown in a coup -- could be interpreted as benefiting Yingluck. Thaksin lives in exile, but is said to still exert strong influence on the government.

Meanwhile, another case against Yingluck for negligence of duty in relation to a rice-pledging scheme which has been criticized for opening the door to massive corruption is making slowly progress. On Tuesday, the Anti-Corruption Commission agreed to hear three more witnesses -- the commerce minister, the deputy commerce minister and the finance minister -- presented by Yingluck to strengthen her defense.

Yingluck has been accused of knowing about the corruption and doing nothing to prevent it, and of not stopping the scheme when it began to run into trouble.

A Thai expert on corruption interviewed Tuesday by The Anadolu Agency said that the case is strong and would likely to lead to her impeachment.

"The problem is that in this subsidies scheme there has been no transparency whatsoever," said Nipon Poapongsakorn, a distinguished fellow at the Thailand Development Research Institute, a think-tank focusing on economic and social issues.

The rice subsidies scheme was initiated soon after Yingluck's Puea Thai (For the Thais) party won 2011 elections. Under the scheme, the government buys rice directly from farmers at a price which is 50 percent higher than the market price. 

The Anti-Corruption Commission will decide whether to indict her in coming weeks. If they choose to do so, she will be suspended from her duties and an impeachment process will begin in front of the Thai Senate.

By that time, however, the Constitutional Court may have already rendered any suspension obsolete.

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