Thai Court Will Rule on Petition to Dismiss Prime Minister

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Constitutional Court accepted a petition by a group of senators seeking to remove Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on ethical grounds but allowed the premier to perform his duties until it ruled on the case.

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The court will scrutinize the plea by 40 senators that said Srettha’s decision to appoint Pichit Chuenban as a cabinet minister last month had constituted a serious violation of ethical standards under the constitution, the court said in a statement on Thursday.

The court voted six to three to accept the petition for consideration whether Srettha should be removed from duties, while voting five to four against suspending his duties in the meantime. It gave Srettha 15 days to submit his defense from when he is formally notified of the court decision.

A former lawyer for the influential Shinawatra family, Pichit was appointed as a minister attached to the prime minister’s office in a reshuffle last month but lacked the qualifications required to take up such a post, according to the group of senators. Pichit resigned as minister on Tuesday, saying he wanted to save Srettha from any legal troubles. The resignation acquitted Pichit of further scrutiny in the case, the court said.

Pichit was sentenced to six months in jail in 2008 for contempt of court after he attempted to bribe Supreme Court officials while representing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a corruption trial.

The court’s decision not to suspend Srettha means he is safe for now, but an upcoming trial still poses a fresh challenge for the Pheu Thai Party-led coalition government that was cobbled together with a group of pro-royalist parties after the military-appointed Senate thwarted the winner of last year’s general election from taking power.

“The filing and the acceptance of the case is a reminder that the establishment is not monolithic and not everyone is happy with the pact between conservative parties and Pheu Thai,” said Peter Mumford, Southeast Asia practice head at consultancy Eurasia Group.

Srettha, who is in Japan to attend a conference and expected to return on Friday, told reporters that he acknowledged the court’s decision and will consult with legal advisors before submitting his defense statement.

“Supporters can be rest assured that I have done everything with honesty,” Srettha said. “We’re professionals and ready to clarify any doubts.”

In 2022, Srettha’s predecessor, then-premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha was suspended from duties by the same court as it deliberated whether he had breached a term limit under the charter. It eventually ruled in his favor about a month afterward and allowed him to resume his duties.

Srettha has struggled to pull Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy from a decade of sub 2% annual growth rate, well behind its regional peers. Srettha has also spooked markets with his ongoing spat with the central bank, pressuring the rate panel to cut interest rates.

(Updates with analyst comment and Srettha’s reaction from seventh paragraph.)

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