11 July 2024

As the government sails towards another censure-debate storm, coalition MP Pichate Satirachaval is creating dangerous waves in the ruling Palang Pracharath Party – just months after joining it.

Pichate claims to have exposed irregularities in recent bidding for a 30-year concession to manage and operate a 25.6-billion-baht water pipeline project in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) special development zone.

His main target is Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat, the Palang Pracharath secretary-general who is in charge of the Treasury Department. The department in March granted the concession to Vongsayam Korsang Co Ltd, which outbid current concessionaire Eastern Water Resources Development and Management Plc (East Water).

However, the project’s contract signing has been suspended pending a Finance Ministry investigation into the allegations of irregularities.

Pichate, 79, said the project should have been opened to more bidders to ensure transparency. He also said he was working with the opposition to scrutinize the project at the next no-confidence debate.

Banned from party activities

Palang Pracharath promptly slapped the political veteran with a six-month suspension for violating its regulations by meeting opposition politicians and acting against his own party.

However, Pichate has remained defiant, saying on Wednesday that he would ask for an opposition time slot to grill the EEC project’s “lack of transparency” at the next censure debate.

Pichate was the leader and only MP of Prachatham Thai, previously one of 10 coalition micro-parties. In December, he joined Palang Pracharath after dissolving his party.

His recent move, say political observers, is an attempt to bring down Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is set to be the main target of the censure debate.

Prayut’s coalition majority in the House of Representatives is being challenged by a breakaway faction led by former Palang Pracharath secretary-general Thammanat Prompow and disgruntled small coalition parties.

Pichate is the self-styled leader of the small parties, which together have 16 MPs. They are reportedly dissatisfied with their lack of Cabinet posts or other political “rewards” for joining the coalition.

‘Political timebomb’

Pichate’s maneuvering is seen as a potential political “time bomb” for Prayut’s government, weakening and destabilizing it from the inside.

Born on December 8, 1942, in Phetchaburi province, Pichate received his bachelor’s degree from the California College of Commerce and a master’s in business management from the Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.

He converted to Islam before marrying his wife, Suree, who is a Muslim. They met while studying in the US.

In 1965, Pichate started working at the Thai Danu Bank before leaving after three years to further his studies in the US. After returning to Thailand, he joined the Transport Ministry and was appointed director of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority in 1984, becoming the ministry’s inspector general four years later. He served in the position until 1995, when he quit the civil service.

He failed in his first two attempts to enter politics, under the Social Action Party in 1976 and the Chart Thai Party in 1995. He succeeded at his third attempt in November 1996, getting elected as an MP in his home province under the New Aspiration Party.

He served as deputy industry minister and deputy transport minister in Thaksin Shinawatra’s governments and was later appointed a Thai trade representative under the administration led by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck.

Turning to religious work

In August 2003, Pichate was banned from politics for five years after the Constitution Court ruled he had filed false information in his financial report as a government minister.

Banned from politics, he turned to the religious sphere, getting elected to Phetchaburi’s provincial Islamic committee, representing it in the Central Islamic Council of Thailand, and then being voted the council’s secretary-general, amid allegations of political intervention.

Pichate was removed from the position in 2010 after Aziz Phitakkumpon took over as the new Sheikhul Islam, the spiritual leader of Thai Muslims.

Claiming his removal was illegitimate, Pichate filed a police complaint against the top Muslim leader and 42 other Central Islamic Council members, accusing them of theft and organized crime. However, public prosecutors decided not to pursue the case on grounds that the accused performed their duty honestly without breaking any laws.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk