6 June 2024

Although he can continue to function as prime minister, Srettha Thavisin still has to be afraid. Very afraid.

He is fighting the biggest battle of his life on two fronts _ legally and politically.

Legally, it’s super scary, but the Constitutional Court gave him 15 days to answer charges so this front can be finished early.

Politically, trouble may last longer, but it’s frightening all the same, and he will have to keep looking over his shoulder because he cannot trust anybody.

It’s extreme worrisome legally because most analysts have pointed out that the ministerial appointment of Phichit Chuenban is not the kind of “political conspiracy” case that can be interpreted either way.

This one has established court records and unambiguous constitutional wordings that Srettha has to fight against.

In addition, the prime minister’s attempts to seek top legal opinions before and after the appointment can go against him.

Some may think Srettha was just wanting to be 100% sure, but others will argue that it shows he clearly knew there were going to be problems yet he went for it.

This is by no means similar to Prayut Chan-o-cha’s “eight-year reign” controversy, which involved slipperier constitutional language and ideological conflicts.

Srettha’s defenders have to deal with undisputed court records and clear-cut constitutional restrictions on ethical and legal qualities of ministerial nominees.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling allowing him to continue serving as prime minister during what must be a horrifying waiting period does not guarantee the Prayut-style escape.

Srettha has to consider this uncomfortable fact: Although Phichit has resigned, the charter court went ahead and accepted the case against the prime minister anyway.

“It doesn’t matter if there is anyone behind the petition,” said former PM’s Office minister Suranand Vejjajiva, who is known to be close to Pheu Thai, during a TV programme after the court ruling.

“It’s obvious that the prime minister was the real target, not Khun Phichit.”

One thing that should be taken into an analysis on Srettha’s future is how close the vote in favour of his continuity as prime minister was. The 5-4 divide should not give him a good night’s sleep when he learned about it.

The judges were not as split when it came to whether the court should accept the Pichit appointment case.

The 6-3 vote means the court’s majority thinks the petition against Srettha and Phichit deserves a further scrutiny. Again, it’s bad news for the prime minister.

But if Srettha was the target like Suranand implied, a major question is why the prime minister has fallen into such an obvious (bordering on childish in fact) trap.

Nobody needed to be a legal expert to know how risky Phichit’s appointment was going to be.

Was Srettha coerced into appointing him? Suranand was asked this question during the TV programme.

He laughed it off, saying only that Phichit’s legal expertise would be useful for the prime minister in the Cabinet.

Perhaps, like most people, Suranand did not really know.

Law lecturer and Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, whose opinions on legal affairs were often sought by the media, expressed his puzzlement at another TV news programme over why Srettha had not seen a big constitutional hurricane coming.

Whether Srettha was the “real target” or not, the Pichit controversy is another big load on the camel’s strained back.

In other words, this unnecessary issue has made Srettha’s political position, already shaky, shakier.

Digital wallet remains potentially explosive. Problems with the Bank of Thailand are making him looked isolated.

The cannabis issue is threatening a Bhumjaithai rebellion. Thaksin Shinawatra is a thorn in his side, something that he dares not pull out but is causing progressive pain.

It’s more complicated than that when it comes to Thaksin, though.

Thaksin is giving him trouble with the conservatives, but Srettha also has to be anxious about next moves of the man from Dubai, too, because everyone knows who has great influences in the Pheu Thai Party and who is its official leader.

What if Thaksin one day wants him to be removed as prime minister, for example? Srettha commands no real loyal support within Pheu Thai. Many people believe Srettha does not determine his own prime ministerial future.

But the Shinawatras setting Srettha up with the Pichit appointment does not make much sense. For one thing, legal and political ramifications can go very far and negatively affect the Pheu Thai Party as a whole.

Srettha’s big bargaining power is House dissolution. It does not matter who want him gone. Too much pressure from anyone and he could just say “I’m out of here and let’s see how they can fight Move Forward now.”

Few believe he would take that option without the Shinawatras’ consent. But what is certain is that Pheu Thai and the conservatives don’t like that Srettha-going-berserk scenario.

As for Srettha, doing that will create a lot of enemies. Businessmen must be used to having enemies, so a lot will depend on what kind of a businessman he is _ one who knows when to cut losses or one who likes to be bold and vengeful.

Tulsathit Taptim