07 May 2014

“The Prime Minister’s status has ended...”

Democracy Monument

Today, the Constitutional Court announced that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must resign from her post, along with nine members of her cabinet. Chalermpol Ekuru, President of the court, declared: “The Prime Minister’s status has ended. Yingluck can no longer stay in her position”. Yingluck, Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister, won the 2011 election; a new election has been scheduled for 20th July.

Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan, a former Shin Corp. executive, has been appointed caretaker Prime Minister to replace Yingluck. Niwatthumrong was also the head of the government’s controversial rice subsidy scheme, and today the National Anti-Corruption Commission recommended that Yingluck should be impeached by the Senate for her role in the policy. Impeachment would result in a five-year ban on political activity, though as she has already been forced to resign, it’s not clear how she can be dismissed again.

The Constitutional Court’s case against Yingluck relates to her demotion of Thawil Pliensri in 2011. Thawil was head of the Council for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (which launched the military massacre in 2010); Yingluck replaced him with the chief of police, then appointed Thaksin’s brother-in-law Priewpan Damapong as the new police chief. The court deemed this an act of nepotism in violation of article 266 of the constitution, which prohibits “the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer... of a Government official” if such action is performed “for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party”.

Yingluck’s dismissal is the third occasion on which the Constitutional Court has ordered the resignations of prime ministers associated with Thaksin. The court dismissed Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for hosting a TV cookery show. It ruled against Somchai Wongsawat, Samak’s successor, later that year, in an attempt to placate yellow-shirt protesters.

Today’s verdict seems to echo the Somchai case, another intervention to appease anti-Thaksin protesters. Just as the People’s Alliance for Democracy blockaded Government House and Suvarnabhumi airport, People’s Democratic Reform Committee protesters have blocked intersections in Bangkok and disrupted the election. The courts have sided with the protesters against the government, nullifying the 2nd February election and preventing the dispersal of the PDRC.

Neither the Constitutional Court nor the NACC accused Yingluck of actually breaking the law. The court ruled that Yingluck was legally authorised to transfer Thawil, though the transfer was not “in accordance with moral principles”. (The ruling was in response to a petition from twenty-seven senators.) Likewise, NACC spokesman Vicha Mahakun confirmed that corruption had not been proven: “the evidence is not clear that the accused took part in corruption, or whether she allowed corruption or not”.