The vacancies at the pinnacle of government, with two senior cabinet roles to fill, now sparks a race for promotion among junior ministers and MPs in parliament eyeing a ministerial role. The low key response from the government on Wednesday and Thursday to the sight of cabinet colleagues being driven away in a prison lorry is quite remarkable.
The three Thai cabinet ministers sent to jail on Wednesday night by the Criminal Court in Bangkok after a 6-hour judgment was read out, are already unseated according to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam. This now paves the way for a cabinet reshuffle. The three were jailed for their roles in violent protests and insurrection against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra from the end of 2013 to May 2014 which preceded the military coup that year.
Three cabinet ministers, including two senior members, were jailed in Bangkok on Wednesday evening after the Criminal Court finished reading its verdict on a court case that had been running since 2018.
26 people including Minister of Education Nataphol Teepsuwan and Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta as well as Deputy Minister of Transport, Thaworn Senneam, in all, were handed down jail terms by the court. 12 were suspended sentences including one for the wife of Mr Nataphol, Ms Taya Teepsuwan.
Former Education Minister Nataphol sent to prison for seven years and four months in a prison lorry together with two cabinet colleagues
Mr Nataphol received a sentence of seven years and four months while Mr Buddhipongse was handed a seven-year term and Mr Thaworn received 5 years in jail.
However, only eight people were later taken by prison lorry to begin serving the sentences handed down by the court.
These included the three cabinet ministers and the leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, who was given a five-year prison term.
The two senior ministers are members of the governing Palang Pracharat Party while the junior minister was affiliated with the Democrat Party which is a coalition partner.
Arrived in suits and ties, left by the prison gate in T-Shirts waving to the media circus outside
The ministers arrived in suits and ties and left through prison gates wearing casual T-Shirts and waving to the crowds.
At least one family relative of the ministerial team was seen in tears at the culmination of a tense and stressful day at court and in the full glare of media headlights.
It has emerged that the court revoked the political rights of Mr Nataphol, his wife and several current MPs as well as activists who were found guilty.
12 people were acquitted by the court
39 people, in total, were arraigned in 2018 but one defendant, General Preecha Iamsupan, died.
12 people were acquitted out of the 37 people who appeared in court while one defendant, Police Colonel Pattarapong Supiyapanich, was already in prison. He watched the verdict which was read out from 11 O’Clock on Wednesday until 5.20 pm, by video link.
Those convicted were found guilty of a range of offences including insurrection, unlawful assembly, criminal association and wilful obstruction of others exercising their democratic rights in the course of a failed election called by then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in an attempt to defuse the crisis.
PDRC leaders paid the price for undermining a 2014 General Election which was nullified later in court
That election was held on Sunday, February 2nd 2014 and was boycotted by opposition parties as well as the PDRC movement in fierce and violent clashes at the precincts of polling stations.
The result was an inconclusive poll in 69 out of 375 constituencies and subsequently declared null and void by the Constitutional Court on the 21st March 2014.
Remarkably low key response as Deputy Prime Minister confirms the position, ministers are gone
The government response to the dramatic events of Wednesday has been remarkably low key.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the ministry’s legal expert, revealed that the three ministers have automatically lost their positions in the government under the 2017 constitution. This is covered by Section 160 (7).
According to Mr Wissanu, it appears that Mr Nataphol may also have lost his status as a party-list MP as the court revoked his political rights.
According to the DPM, it does not matter if the ministers win their cases on appeal as the constitution explicitly references a person ‘sentenced’ to prison except where the matter is something minor or a case of defamation which, in Thailand, is a criminal instead of a civil matter.
The same consequences also apply to suspended sentences handed down by judges.
Cabinet reshuffle race begins
On the basis, a cabinet reshuffle will follow.
Already two up and coming deputy ministers are eyeing the senior cabinet posts of Education and Digital Economy minister occupied by Mr Nataphol and Mr Buddhipongse Punnakanta.
This was even speculated on last weekend following the government’s defeat of the no-confidence motion in parliament and a clear indication that some ministers are more supported than others.
These are the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow and the Deputy Minister of Labour Narumon Pinyosinwat.