11 July 2024

July 10 has been set by the charter court as the date for the first hearing of a petition, submitted by a group of 40 former senators, accusing Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin of violating the Constitution by appointing Phichit Chuenban as PM Office Minister, despite him having served time in prison.

Srettha could be stripped of his premiership if the court rules in favour of the petitioners. The prime minister, who has insists that the appointment was lawful, is currently on COVID-19 sick leave.

Srettha is the fifth prime minister to be tried by the Constitutional Court since it was established in October 1997. Two of his predecessors, Samak Sundaravej and Yingluck Shinawatra, were found guilty and removed from office, while two others, Thaksin Shinawatra and Prayut Chan-o-cha, were cleared.

Samak and Yingluck were both considered proxies of former prime minister Thaksin, who is regarded by many as the patriarch of the ruling Pheu Thai party. Political debutant Srettha is thus the third premier from the Thaksin camp to find himself in the charter court’s dock.

The property tycoon-turned-politician was among three candidates nominated for prime minister by Pheu Thai at the last election.

The party is currently being led by Thaksin’s youngest daughter, 37-year-old Paetongtarn.

In their petition, the former senators cited Article 160 of the Constitution, which says ministers must possess “evident integrity” and high ethical standards.

Pichit was jailed for six months for contempt of court, while defending Thaksin in a 2008 case over a land deal. The Supreme Court’s Criminal Division on Political Officeholders found that the ex-lawyer and two of his junior colleagues had offered a 2-million-baht bribe to court officials.

Critics claim that Pichit was appointed to the Cabinet because of his close relationship with Thaksin, who still wields considerable political influence after returning to Thailand, from self-imposed exile to avoid incarceration himself, last year.

Pichit later resigned from the position, leaving Srettha to face the petitioners and the court alone.

Srettha responded to the petition by insisting that Phichit’s appointment was “legitimate and lawful”. He said he had consulted the Council of State, the government’s legal advisor, before making the decision.

On May 23rd, the Constitutional Court dropped the case against Pichit, on the grounds that he had already quit, but the court’s nine judges voted 6:3 to accept the case against Srettha. In a 5:4 vote, however, they decided not to suspend him pending the verdict.