Judgement day for Paiboon Nititawan, protector of junta-sponsored Constitution
A Constitutional Court ruling due to be issued on Wednesday (Oct 20) holds the key to the political future of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party’s legal expert Paiboon Nititawan, with big impacts predicted for Thailand if he loses his MP seat.
Paiboon is a deputy leader of Palang Pracharath and a close legal advisor to party leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also deputy prime minister.
Last November, around 60 MPs petitioned House Speaker Chuan Leekpai to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court on whether Paiboon’s MP status had ended after he moved to Palang Pracharath.
In a shock move after the March 2019 election, Paiboon asked the Election Commission (EC) to dissolve his own party, the People Reform Party, which he led and represented as sole party-list MP. The EC duly dissolved the party on September 6, 2019, and Paiboon joined the ruling party three days later.
The MPs’ petition cited a constitutional edict that MPs cannot move from one party to another without giving up their own MP status. It also said that the Political Party Act stipulates a party leader must perform his/her duty of completing the party’s financial audit after the party has been dissolved.
Moreover, the petition pointed out that Paiboon was not on the list of Palang Pracharath party-list candidates for the March 2019 general election.
Charge against Paiboon
Former EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the legal question in the case was whether Paiboon remained leader while the party was being dissolved, with a legal duty to clear up the party’s finances.
According to Somchai, the law requires Paiboon to fulfil his duties as leader in clearing up his former party’s accounts. However, the Office of the Auditor General has yet to complete its inspection of People Reform Party finances more than two years after the dissolution.
“If he is still legally the People Reform leader, the law bars him from joining Palang Pracharath,” Somchai said.
The former election commissioner said that in the case of normal party dissolutions or MPs being expelled from a party, the Constitution gives MPs 60 and 30 days, respectively, to find a new party. However, Paiboon’s case was different because he proposed the dissolution himself.
Should the court find him guilty and cancel his MP status, much will depend on the date when the ruling comes into effect, he added.
If the court rules that Paiboon’s MP status ended when he became a Palang Pracharath MP on November 9, 2019, he will have to return all benefits received from state, which could amount to Bt10 million. But it will not affect his performance or duties as an MP, including voting in Parliament or committees.
“The verdict will set a precedent for future cases. I believe the court will listen to all arguments and create an appropriate precedent,” Somchai said.
Big blow to ruling party?
Analysts say the loss of Paiboon’s MP status would be a big blow for the ruling party, especially when it comes to legal affairs.
Since joining Palang Pracharath, Paiboon has been a key protector of the current junta-sponsored Constitution, written to pave way for the 2014 coup leaders to maintain power after the 2019 general election.
Paiboon played a major role in blocking several amendments proposed in Parliament to make the charter more democratic.
A veteran known throughout his career for shaking up the political landscape, Paiboon first entered Parliament as an appointed senator in 2008 and 2011, and again from 2012 to 2014. He founded the “Group of 40 Senators”, which openly scrutinised Thaksin Shinawatra-linked governments led by the now-defunct People’s Power Party and Pheu Thai – which now heads the opposition.
In May 2014, the Paiboon-led group triggered the downfall of caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra and nine of her Cabinet ministers, who were dismissed in a historic Constitutional Court verdict. The group had accused Yingluck of abusing her authority by replacing National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri with police chief Wichean Potephosree to pave the way for Priewpan Damapong – the brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife – to take over as police chief.
Just one month before the 2019 election, Paiboon challenged another Thaksin-linked party, Thai Raksa Chart, for nominating as its sole prime ministerial candidate the King’s eldest sister, Princess Ubolratana.
Paiboon asked the EC to rule if the nomination breached electoral laws, which resulted in the party being dissolved by the Constitutional Court and its 14 executives banned from politics for 10 years.
Paiboon was the first politician to openly back junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha as a PM candidate in the run up to the first election since the coup.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk