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Court orders Thai PM to step down over TV cooking show – Caretaker PM appointed but Samak’s party may re-elect him later

September 10th, 2008 · No Comments


PRIME Minister Samak Sundaravej was forced to resign yesterday for violating the Thai Constitution, over payments he received for hosting TV cooking programmes.

The Thai Constitutional Court’s unanimous verdict found the payments breached Article 267 of the 2007 charter, which bans ministers from holding outside economic interests.

‘His (Prime Minister Samak’s) premiership is over, and the term of the Cabinet has also expired,’ Constitutional Court Judge Chat Chawakorn was reported as saying. Mr Samak’s party said, however, that it would vote him back as prime minister again.

Mr Samak said previously that he had sought legal counsel before appearing on the two TV shows, and that any monies received were to reimburse travel expenses and did not constitute payment. The court ruled otherwise, ordering him to step down immediately. Thai constitutional law also states that his Cabinet must resign, but it will remain in place until a new prime minister is elected by Parliament within the next 30 days.

Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has been appointed as caretaker-Prime Minister for the interim process.

The ruling will not address the problems that lay at the root of Thailand’s current political turmoil, political observers said.

‘It is unlikely to solve any of the underlying problems of the current crisis as it appears that the (Mr Samak’s) People’s Power Party coalition has said it will vote him in as prime minister again. The law does not prevent this,’ said Ismael Wolf, a Bangkok-based political and security analyst with PSA Asia.
PPP has a number of options open to it, including re-selecting Mr Samak, electing a new PM or calling a snap election.

Such a move would enrage the right-wing anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has occupied Government House for more than two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and the dissolution of Parliament.

The PAD is likely to use the court’s decision as a rallying point for its campaign, according to Mr Wolf. Though Bangkok’s streets are likely to remain safe despite earlier fears of violent clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters, he said. ‘From a security point of view, there is nothing that indicates an escalation of violence in Bangkok. In fact, there has been no violence since last week,’ he said.

While rifts between pro- and anti-government alliances are becoming increasingly polarised, recent polls revealed that Bangkokians are losing patience with the current situation, as the deadlock between the PAD and the PPP continues to slow Thailand’s already sluggish economy.

International observers are also likely to be bemused by the fact that Prime Minister Samak’s short time as a TV chef achieved what months of PAD protests, and allegations of corruption, cronyism and economic mismanagement could not.

‘It’s farcical, really,’ said Mr Wolf. ‘That he was taken down for appearing on a cooking programme may seem absurd to international observers.’

Published September 10, 2008
© The Business Times

Tags: news · The Business Times (Singapore)

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