PM Srettha Thavisin narrowly survived a Constitutional Court order to stand down but now faces a court decision over appointing a minister jailed for bribery. With a 5-4 vote, Mr Srettha was allowed to continue in his role in the meantime. The PM must now justify the controversial appointment in a written submission to the court within 15 days.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Thursday survived an order to stand down from his duties. However, any relief at that must be overshadowed by the Constitutional Court’s decision to take up a case against him brought by 40 outgoing senators acting in a caretaker capacity. In addition, the decision by the court was made on a knife-edge, a 5-4 majority call. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin now has 15 days to explain why he appointed Mr Phichit Chuenban as Prime Minister’s Office Minister at the end of April. The appointment of Mr Phichit, who resigned on Tuesday, came despite his being jailed for bribery by the Supreme Court in 2008. Certainly, if the court rules that his explanation is not sufficient, he may be removed from office for violating the 2017 Constitution’s requirements in making the appointment.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin attended a dinner party on Thursday evening, May 23rd. The location was the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. The event hosted participants of the 29th Nikkei Forum Future of Asia, which is meeting between May 22-24 in the Japanese capital. Prime Minister Srettha was an honoured speaker. At the forum, Mr Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, also addressed participants.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin spoke to reporters after the Constitutional Court ruled on a case brought against him.

In the morning in Bangkok, nine judges sat in session and quickly went through the business before them.

The case was a petition filed by 40 caretaker senators under Section 82 and Paragraph 3, Section 170 of the 2017 Constitution.

Outgoing senators took the case questioning the appointment of a minister who was jailed by the courts in 2008 for passing a bribe to judiciary officials

The senators, in short, complained that the appointment at the end of April of Mr Phichit Chuenban as Prime Minister’s Office Minister was an egregious breach of the 2017 charter.

Specifically, under Sections 160 (4) and (5), they argued that Mr Phichit lacked the integrity and character required for the role.

Previously, in 2008, Mr Phichit had been involved in the ‘lunch box’ bribe case, where ฿2 million was delivered to officials during the trial of Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

Indeed, Mr Phichit was subsequently arrested and sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court.

On Thursday, the judges in the court voted by a majority of 6-3 to take up the case against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Srettha faces dismissal from his position if the court ultimately rules the appointment was a breach of the 2017 Constitutional sections 160(4) and (5)

In brief, this means his actions in appointing Mr Phichit will be scrutinised. The key question is why the appointment proceeded given the history of the particular minister.

Notably, Mr Phichit had served as an adviser to the Prime Minister since the inception of the government in September 2023. In addition, he is known to be close to ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

PM Srettha Thavisin could be temporarily toppled from power on Thursday by the Constitutional Court

In effect, this is the root of the case being brought. The outgoing senate, appointed by the junta government of General Prayut Chan-o-cha, is questioning the decision-making at Government House.

Government House officials insist that Mr Phichit’s cabinet appointment met all constitutional requirements and advice was taken from the Council of State

In turn, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and his advisers say that the appointment of the reshuffled cabinet was executed fully in line with constitutional provisions. In particular, they state that advice was taken from the Council of State in the matter.

On Thursday afternoon, Dr Phrommin Lertsuriyadej, Secretary to the Prime Minister, was unequivocal. He assured reporters that Mr Srettha was in a position to answer the court’s request for an explanation. In addition, he indicated that this would be possible within 15 days.

Afterwards, if the court finds that Mr Srettha was not mindful or indeed disregarded the constitutional provisions, he may be removed from office.

Nonetheless, on Thursday, there was an indication that this may not happen. It came when the court considered if the prime minister should be temporarily suspended from duties.

In short, it was a close-run thing. The judges voted 5-4 in favour of letting the PM continue with his work.

Prime Minister Srettha is currently in Japan as he seeks to drum up inward investment and new jobs for Thailand’s ailing economy. Received a warm welcome

Presently, the Prime Minister is in Japan. The top Indo-Pacific trading partner has been Thailand’s largest inward investor over the decades.

Mr Srettha met Japanese PM Fumio Kishida in what appeared to be a genuinely warm atmosphere between the two men.

Finance Minister meets central bank boss as Fitch research house questions Thailand’s direction and tourism trade

Afterwards, the PM insisted that he had been surprised by the positive reaction in Japan. His mission, in short, was to drum up investment for Thailand’s ailing economy. A Fitch BMI report in early May shows investment has slumped in recent years to 2.8% of GDP.

In response to reporters, the Prime Minister insisted he would be back in Thailand for the weekend. At length, he had a full schedule for Saturday and Sunday.

In relation to the Constitutional Court decision. He explained a written brief was dispatched from  Government House to Japan. However, he had not had time to read it.

Nevertheless, he accepted the court’s duty to adjudicate on such matters. Undoubtedly, any prime minister must be ready to be examined by both the judiciary and the legislative branch of government or parliament.

Prime Minister appeared as indefatigable as ever briefing reporters on the latest legal challenge. Insisted to journalists that he had a full weekend schedule

On a personal side, he told reporters he was able to withstand the pressure. That was how he sustained a full workload. The indefatigable PM explained he could switch on and off at will.

Nevertheless, many analysts are concerned about the situation. The court’s knife-edge decision to let the prime minister continue his duties shows the peril that the government faces.

The ‘sting in the tail’ actions of the outgoing senate, even in a caretaker role, surprised many people. Unquestionably, it has highlighted the nature of the current constitutional framework. In short, it is prone to ongoing political instability or disruption.

On the other hand, opponents of the prime minister would argue otherwise. In other words, the appointment of Mr Phichit Chuenban was an act that should not have happened. That, in truth, the constitutional safeguards have worked properly.

In the meantime, the court on Thursday voted 8-1 not to pursue a case against Mr Phichit.

It came following his May 21st submission to the court. In it, he made clear to the Constitutional Court that he had already resigned as Prime Minister’s Office Minister.

At this time, this leaves the authority of the Prime Minister somewhat weakened. That includes the perception of the government’s stability, a factor now also being closely looked at by the investment community.

In addition, it leaves an extra cabinet seat still to be filled.

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