BANGKOK – As the street protests in Bangkok continue to simmer, the Big Q question now among Thai opinion-makers is whether caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra will continue to stay or be deposed either by the Constitutional Court or the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
Ekachai Chaiyanuvat, vice dean of Siam University’s Law Faculty, said that MS Yingluck had already lost her status as prime minister the moment she dissolved parliament and called a snap election last December. “She is practically acting as head of a caretaker government waiting for a post-election government to be set up and get started to work sooner or later,” Ekachai said in an interview.
Both the Constitutional Court and the NACC could find Ms. Yingluck guilty of having abused her powers involving the transfer of a senior government official a few years earlier or having failed to combat corruption among those involved in the government’s populist Rice program.
If convicted by either independent body, Ms. Yingluck, sister of deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra, could be removed from office and banned from politics.
But Ekachai said that it will be “very unlikely” for Ms. Yingluck to lose her caretaker premiership under any clause of the constitution or rule of law.
Ms. Yingluck is facing charges of having abused her power and the case is now being handled by the Constitutional Court following a ruling by the Administrative Court that the transfer of Thawil Pliensri from the post of Secretary-General of the National Security Council (NSC) to an inactive post of adviser to the prime minister was “illegal.”
The Constitutional Court has demanded that Ms Yingluck defend herself over the Thawil case later this month, and the anti-graft agency has also commanded her to defend the government’s Rice program that is allegedly riddled with corruption at working levels.
The caretaker government already resolved to return the NSC chairmanship to Thawil while Ms. Yingluck will certainly insist to the NACC that the populist rice program was good at the policy level and that she had instituted several measures in fighting corruption at the working levels.
But even if MS Yingluck is found guilty of any wrongdoing in the 2 cases, which would be forwarded to a criminal or civil court, she could still legally keep her status as head of the caretaker government, Ekachai said.
“She is just acting as head of a caretaker government, waiting for a post-election government to replace her own. The Constitutional Court or the NACC cannot deny her such a legal status despite all accusations filed against her and subsequent rulings,” he said. It remains to be seen how soon the Election Commission will hold a new election after the 2 February polls which were declared null and void by the Constitutional Court. The court ruling was based on the failure of some Thai citizens to vote because of the disruption created by in part by anti-government protesters.
According to Ekachai, who is also spokesman of the Assembly for the Defense of Democracy, the current Senators in the upper house cannot replace the elected premier with a non-elected one since there is nothing in the Thai Constitution that gives them that power.
Most non-elected Senators, former opposition MPs and anti-government street protesters, who have persistently pressed for MS. Yingluck to step down over the past few months, have called on the 2 independent bodies to remove Ms. Yingluck as caretaker premier and replace her with a non-elected one.
While some of her political opponents have cited a clause of the constitution which allows the appointment by the Thai Monarch of a non-elected premier, others have repeatedly called for a military coup to overthrow her caretaker government.
There are speculations that prominent figures such as privy Counsel Palakorn Suvannarat, former Premier Anand Panyarachun and former Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, among others, have been sounded out to succeed Ms. Yingluck as the non-elected prime minister.
“The Constitution does by no means allow legislators in the upper house to pick anyone to replace an elected premier even if she is found guilty of the charges of abuse of power or negligence of duty. The vacuum of political power desired by those opposed to the government will not be made to happen simply by ousting the elected premier who might be replaced with a non-elected one,” Ekachai said.
Thai heads of government will only be picked from among elected lawmakers under democratic rule and in accordance with the constitution, he said.
Ekachai’s comments coincided with a massive gathering of tens of thousands of Red Shirt activists in the western outskirts of Bangkok to show support for the elected premier even as they scored the Constitutional Court and NACC for alleged “foul play.”
Vowing to fight for justice and uphold democratic rule, the pro-government demonstrators charged that the members of the independent bodies are “anti-democracy aristocrats.” – Paul Ebeling