Political turmoil and tensions resurface in Thailand. Ex-PM Thaksin faces a June 18th indictment amid doubts about his prospects for bail. In the meantime, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin faces a serious and well-founded Constitutional Court challenge to his position. The PM has, however, retained the services of the former deputy prime minister and legal eagle of the Prayut era, Wissanu Krea-ngam. The law expert returns to serve as an advisor amid mounting instability.

Thailand’s political world at the end of this week looks like it’s on shaky ground. Firstly, there was a jolt last week with the Constitutional Court taking up a case against Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. Additionally, on Wednesday, Attorney General Sompong Amornvivat decided to indict former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra on lèse-majesté and computer crime charges. Indeed, there is some doubt as to whether Mr Thaksin will receive bail when arraigned on June 18th while he is still on parole. In the meantime, former Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the legal eagle who successfully helped former Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s government avoid legal hiccups, is back in Government House as an advisor.

(Left) A younger looking photo of now 73-year-old former deputy PM Wissanu Krea-ngam who returned as a Government House advisor this week. (Right) Similarly, his former boss, 74-year-old ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who brought Mr Wissanu into his government in 2002 and eventually appointed him as deputy prime minister, faces a criminal indictment on June 18th next. Today in 2024, both men, now quite elderly, find themselves at the epicentre of a new and brewing political storm.

Thailand’s Attorney General Amnat Chotcharoenrak on Wednesday rocked the political world by indicting former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on a lèse-majesté charge.

Additionally, there is a Computer Crime charge linked to endangering national security.

Previously, the outstanding charges were unknown to Thaksin before he arrived back in Thailand on August 22nd last year. 

Nasty surprise for Thaksin after arriving home on August 22nd to be informed of additional criminal charges in the system which were subsequently progressed

In short, the charges ordered by a former attorney general had been in the hands of the police.

Both charges are linked to an interview with top South Korean daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo on May 21st, 2015.

In the resulting media piece, Thaksin appeared to suggest that members of the privy council supported the 2014 coup d’état, which removed the remnants of the last Pheu Thai government that came to power with his sister Yingluck Shinawatra as prime minister.

Thaksin hit with a bombshell as police pursue a lèse-majesté criminal charge against him from 2016
PM Srettha Thavisin could be temporarily toppled from power on Thursday by the Constitutional Court

Certainly, in the days after Thaksin’s return, it was suggested that these charges were overlooked in what is understood to be a carefully coordinated deal between Thaksin, Pheu Thai and conservative forces linked to the previous government.

Bombshell for Thaksin on January 17th as he was recovering at Police General Hospital after being jailed in August last year on his return with charges filed

Afterwards, the Director-General of the Investigation Office at the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), Mr Kunthanit Mongkolsawat, dispelled any such view. On January 17th, he ordered the filing of the case.

Afterwards, Thaksin, from the Police General Hospital in Bangkok, sought to have the charges annulled. He filed a petition for fair treatment.

However, the decision on Wednesday to indict the former Premier unexpectedly alters the political trend. 

Thaksin is scheduled to appear in court on June 18th to face the charges. In addition, there is a real possibility that the court may refuse him bail.

Wissanu Krea-ngam, the legal maestro of the Prayut era appointed Chairman of the Bangkok Post listed company

At the same time, this week, former Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who has returned as an advisor to similarly embattled Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, points to the courts currently granting bail in Article 112 cases.

73-year-old Wissanu was appointed by Thaksin to his cabinet in 2002 and subsequently became a deputy prime minister. His legal acumen is second to none.

Real danger of Thaksin being denied bail and jailed although former deputy prime minister Wissannu points to recent bail decisions by the courts in 112 cases

Notwithstanding this, Thaksin is still on parole and in 2008 broke his bail undertaking to the court. At that time, the ex-premier failed to return from the Olympic Games in Beijing and was subsequently jailed in absentia.

Undoubtedly, the jailing of Thaksin would be a significant development.

The word behind the scenes is that this is not what the ‘old guard’ wants to see happen.

However, there has been rising frustration among conservative factions at Mr Thaksin’s overt involvement in government affairs. In particular, since he was released from prison in February.

This new tension is also coming at a time when questions are being asked about Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

The petition from 40 outgoing senators regarding the appointment of Mr Thaksin’s former lawyer as Prime Minister’s Office minister was taken up by the Constitutional Court last week.

Certainly, this is one of the reasons why Mr Wissanu Krea-ngam’s ability has been sought at Government House.

Appointment of Thaksin former lawyer, jailed for a bribery act, viewed as a serious misstep by the Prime Minister at the end of April in the cabinet reshuffle

Most analysts regard the appointment of Mr Phichit Chuenban in April as a serious misstep by the PM.

Mr Thaksin’s former lawyer was jailed by the Supreme Court in 2008 for blatant bribery within the court precincts. His appointment as part of the April cabinet reshuffle surprised many people,

The resignation of the minister days before the Constitutional Court decision did not stop it from taking up its case against the Prime Minister.

Certainly, the threat to the PM cannot be taken lightly. A reply to the court is expected within the 15 days given.

At the same time, there are also question marks over Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s handling of the corruption furore within the Royal Thai Police.

A meeting on Thursday discussed an order signed by the PM ordering Deputy National Police Chief Surachate Hakparn or ‘Big Joke’ to leave office.

Big Joke or the case of deputy national police commissioner General Surachate Hakparn is another controversy raising eyebrows, order signed by the PM

The matter is presently understood to be under review by the Council of State.

Big Joke insists on his innocence suggesting a campaign to thwart him from leading the force. He is presently leading an anti-corruption campaign against the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

Big Joke marches on with his mission to clean up corruption in Thailand through People Power under the Constitution

Afterwards, the Big  Joke case may eventually be sent to the King for adjudication.

In the meantime, new concerns have arisen over General Torsak Sukwimol, the national police chief, who was also suspended by the Prime Minister in March this year.

General Torsak is seen as the nemesis of General Surachate within the troubled police force.

Significantly, it has emerged that he and his wife own two undeclared properties in London.

In the meantime, the public remains ill at ease with the current government.

Significantly, the economy has deteriorated under its watch since September when it came to power.

In addition, while economic growth remains stagnant, it remains stable.

However, this government has scored hard to fathom own goals. In particular, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin undermined confidence with his campaign against the Bank of Thailand.

This related to interest rate policy on which the new Minister of Finance, Pichai Chunhavajira, finally called a truce.

Opinion Poll results are decidedly bad news for Srettha as Prime Minister. His popularity appears to have plummeted after starting off well enough last year

Indeed, Prime Minister Srettha, who initially rose in popularity as Prime Minister, was ranked only fourth in a recent poll.

The national opinion poll was conducted by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute from May 7th to 18th. In brief, it showed Mr Srettha with only 8.7% public support.

Meanwhile, the poll was topped by former Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat with 46.9%.

Unquestionably, the popularity of Mr Pita is a significant phenomenon. In effect, the public and many analysts, particularly outside Thailand, see him as the de facto winner of the 2023 General Election.

Mr Srettha’s popularity was understood to be half that of his predecessor General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who polled second with 17.7%.

In conclusion, Thailand has entered another period of political instability.

Undoubtedly there are questions over the future of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin. At the same time, the exclusion of the country’s most popular politician, Mr Pita is currently before the Constitutional Court.

Now we have the threat of jail hanging over arguably the country’s most significant political figure, Mr Thaksin.

At the same time, Wissanu Krea-ngam, who has served many governments since the 1990s, is back at work behind the scenes. At length, he will be trying to make legal sense of it all.

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Further reading:

PM survives Constitutional Court’s call in a close run thing raising real questions over his future

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

Cabinet reshuffle sees Pheu Thai tighten ship as it readies to drive the economy and digital wallet at full steam

Thaksin’s real influence hinted at with a lunchtime meeting at his daughter’s central Bangkok hotel in Ploenchit

Big cabinet reshuffle talks confirmed by the PM after Songkran visit to Thonburi to meet Thaksin at home

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