11 July 2024

It is rare for Thai politicians to voluntarily vacate their seats, not to mention a coveted ministerial post. But that was exactly what Deputy Interior Minister Nipon Boonyamanee did last Monday.

A senior figure from the coalition Democrat Party, Nipon resigned to face trial in the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases on a charge of malfeasance.

The case stems from his role as chief executive of Songkhla’s provincial administrative organization. Back in 2013, he refused to pay 52 million baht for the PAO’s purchase of two road-maintenance trucks, arguing that bidding on the contract during his predecessor’s tenure was flawed by collusion.

Nipon, 64, said he decided to step down to avoid criticism and to concentrate on the trial.

Rare examples

In recent memory, three Thai politicians have quit key political positions to “prove their innocence” in the face of allegations – then Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin in November 2008, social development and human security minister Witoon Nambutr in February 2009, and public health minister Witthaya Kaewparadai in December 2009.

Interestingly, all of them were senior figures from the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest political party.

Witoon resigned one month after the Democrat-led government of Abhisit Vejjajiva was formed in December 2008, amid a corruption scandal involving rotten canned fish given to flood victims. He denied knowledge of how the bad cans of fish, which made dozens of rural residents violently ill, had made it into packages handed out to flood victims by his ministry in the South.

“My resignation is a painful decision as I have not in any way been involved in this,” Witoon said, insisting he had quit voluntarily and not due to pressure from his party.

Witthaya, also a member of Abhisit’s Cabinet, stepped down several months later after an investigation found he had been negligent in handling an 86-billion-baht procurement project.

“I want to show responsibility to the public,” he said in announcing his decision.

‘No evidence of wrongdoing’

Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, a fellow Democrat figure and their Cabinet colleague at that time, stressed years later that the investigations by state agencies found no evidence of wrongdoing against Witoon and Witthaya.

“They merely resigned to protect the administration in which they served and to allow their names to be cleared to prove that no blunder or corruption took place,” Korn said in a letter to a Thai newspaper in August 2015, when he was still with the Democrat Party.

Korn was responding to an editorial in the newspaper that had claimed “not a single Thai minister has ever resigned his post to take responsibility for a blunder occurring under his jurisdiction.”

Setting a political standard

Apirak’s resignation came just a month after he was re-elected as Bangkok governor in October 2008, and a day after the National Anti-Corruption Commission implicated him and his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, in a controversial purchase of fire trucks and boats from Austria made during Samak’s tenure.

On resigning, Apirak insisted he was innocent and had full confidence in the justice system.

His decision was praised by then Democrat leader Abhisit. “Apirak’s resignation set a standard that many people want to see in Thai politics. It’s praiseworthy and he deserves moral support from society,” Abhisit said.

In September 2013, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders found Apirak not guilty on grounds that he had simply followed the purchase contract terms that came into force before he assumed office.

Hailing from the South

Nipon was born on July 22, 1958, in the southern province of Songkhla to a family of Chinese descent. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in law and a master’s in economics from Ramkhamhaeng University, as well as a master’s in public administration from the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA).

After serving in Songkhla’s provincial administrative organizations for two terms, Nipon set his sights on national politics. He was first elected as an MP for his home province in 1992 under the Democrat Party and was re-elected for seven more terms.

Under the Democrat-led government, he was appointed secretary to the justice minister in 1994 and deputy secretary general to the prime minister twice in 1999 and 2000.

Nipon was also elected to the party’s executive board three times, as deputy secretary-general twice in 2005 and 2011, and as a deputy party leader under current leader Jurin Laksanawisit.

In May 2013, Nipon resigned as an MP to contest a local election for chief executive of the Songkhla PAO, which he won. He quit the seat in June 2019 to be appointed deputy interior minister in the current coalition government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk