PM Srettha Thavisin faces temporarily being ousted. Thai Constitutional Court to decide on Thursday. Returning from his European trip, a petition from the caretaker Senate could see Thai PM Srettha and Minister Phichit Chuenban suspended. The court’s decision this Thursday could spark a political storm and open up a Pandora’s Box if it decides to take up the case.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, currently on a trip to both France and Italy, could be flying back to a constitutional storm which may topple him from power, at least temporarily. The PM arrives back in Bangkok on Tuesday. A petition lodged by the caretaker Senate on Friday morning seeks to address whether the tenure of both Mr Srettha and Prime Minister’s Office Minister Mr Phichit Chuenban stands rescinded after the PM’s controversial appointment of the latter at the end of April. It is expected that the Constitutional Court will look at the matter this Thursday. In short, if the court agrees to take it up, it may decide to suspend the prime minister from his duties while it makes its decision.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (right), currently in Italy on a European tour, is due to fly back to Bangkok on Tuesday, May 21st. Two days later, the Constitutional Court may take up a case filed against him and Prime Minister’s Office Minister Phichit Chuenban (left). It could see both men temporarily removed from office.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who on Sunday was in Italy on a trip which included an earlier visit to France, found himself facing the prospect of being removed from office.

On Saturday, Mr Srettha addressed reporters regarding a Constitutional Court petition lodged with the court on Friday.

 Reportedly signed by 40 caretaker senators, it seeks a ruling on whether Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Prime Minister’s Office Minister Phichit Chuenban should be removed under Section 170 of the 2017 Constitution.

Senators claim that Mr Phichit is prohibited from being a minister because of a previous term of imprisonment and questionable character based on court orders

In short, outgoing senators claim that Mr Phichit is barred from holding office.

The lawyer is close to former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Previously, he was sentenced to six months in prison in 2008. 

The imprisonment of Mr Phichit came after he was found in contempt of court. He was caught attempting to pass over a ฿2 million cash bribe to officials within the court.

However, the term of imprisonment was not related to a criminal conviction but an act of the court.

Over the weekend, while in Italy, Mr Srettha vehemently defended himself against the charge. He claims he had passed the legal questions to the Council of State before making the appointment.

Appointment came during the April reshuffle. Constitutional Court may address the matter as early as Thursday, May 23rd, two days after Mr Srettha returns

This was before the end of the April cabinet reshuffle. Certainly, he claimed he was assured there was no obstacle to the appointment.

The PM also suggested that the incident involving Mr Phichit was well over 10 years before his appointment.

Nevertheless, critics within the Senate argue otherwise. In brief, they claim that under Section 160(4), a minister must be of ‘evident good integrity’ under the law.

In addition under Section 16(7) of the Constitution, a ‘judgment to imprisonment’ is sufficient reason to bar an appointment.

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It is not clear when the Constitutional Court will look at the matter. This week sees Visakha Bucha Day on Wednesday, May 22nd. Therefore, it is understood that the court may look at the petition on Thursday, May 23rd.

Court has the power to temporarily suspend the Prime Minister from his duties until a final decision is handed down. Calls for the 40 senators to be named

If it decides to accept the matter, it could temporarily suspend Prime Minister Srettha from office.

In effect, it would mean the senior deputy prime minister in the cabinet would take on the role. This could be for a period of up to two months before a final decision is rendered.

Meanwhile, there has been some controversy about the petition itself. Calls have been made to clarify the 40 caretaker senators who signed off on the move.

One of them is identified as Senator Direkrit Jenkrongtham. He declared this week that the Senate, whose term expired on May 11th, has a duty to represent the people.

The Constitution requires as few as 25 senators to sign the petition or one-tenth of the upper house.

Cash bribe offered during the prosecution of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra for corruption in 2008

The petition focuses on Mr Phichit’s behaviour in 2008. This came when he attempted to pass over a ฿2 million cash bribe to officials in the precincts of a Thai court. 

Significantly, the case involved the criminal prosecution of ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife for corruption.

The petition emphasises the corrupt behaviour of Mr Phichit in 2008. Therefore, on this basis, under Section 160(4), he is essentially prohibited from holding office.

Afterwards, Mr Phichit was disciplined by the Lawyers Council and subsequently disbarred.

The move could see a minor political crisis. This is coming at a time when the kingdom is mired in economic stasis with underlying tensions in the cabinet over the future of cannabis.

‘Sting in the tail’ move by the junta-appointed Senate threatens to create a minor political crisis. If  Srettha is removed, it opens up quite a Pandora’s Box

Certainly, it is being seen as the last ‘sting in the tail’ of the junta-appointed Senate, which last year fully exercised its prerogative in selecting the Prime Minister and next government.

Unquestionably, the role of the upper house blocked the Move Forward Party, the winner of the 2023 General Election, from taking up power.

If subsequently Mr Srettha were to be removed from power, a new Prime Minister would have to be appointed. However, this next Prime Minister will be selected solely by the House of Representatives.

A decisive move by the Constitutional Court could open up a political Pandora’s Box for Thailand. Certainly, Mr Srettha will be hoping that the court declines the case.

In addition, another significant factor is that it is likely that by then the Move Forward Party will have been disbanded. At the same time, many of its leaders and MPs will in effect be removed from politics.

Latest twist highlights closer oversight of politicians and political office holders imposed by the junta-inspired 2017 Constitution. Danger of instability

Despite this, some will, it is understood, transfer to a new political party.

In short, this latest political development illustrates the lack of political power that elected politicians have in Thailand. 

Under the provisions established by the previous junta, the elected representatives of the country are subject to a multitude of scrutinising agencies and constitutional mechanisms.

This development furthermore highlights the unstable political nature of governance in Thailand.

Moreover, it will fuel fears about the involvement of Thaksin Shinawatra in the operations of the government.

In turn, this is already giving rise to public concern and fears that polarisation may again return to the political sphere. 

As it stands, confidence in the political process is already at a low ebb with public support for the soon-to-be disbanded Move Forward Party remaining high.

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