Senator predicts Srettha’s removal as PM over Pichit’s appointment

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2024

Senator Praphan Koonmee predicted on Sunday that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin would be found to have violated the Constitution by appointing a person who had been imprisoned as a minister, which would require him to step down from his post.

He was referring to the appointment of Pichit Chuenban as PM’s Office Minister in the reshuffle earlier this month.

A petition submitted by a group of senators on Wednesday via Senate Senate President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, has requested the Constitutional Court to rule on whether Srettha had violated the charter by appointing Pichit to the Cabinet despite his lack of qualifications and prohibited qualities.

Praphan said if the court finds Srettha guilty of violating Article 160 that defines the qualifications of Cabinet members, he would be regarded as committing malfeasance and that would result in his removal from office.

“This is a serious case. If Pichit is ruled by the Constitutional Court as unqualified to become a Cabinet member, the court may rule that the prime minister intentionally violated the charter,” Praphan said.

“In that scenario, the prime minister will be removed from office and another vote will be held to elect the prime minister.”

Praphan said several sides had warned Srettha from the start that  Pichit’s qualifications were questionable and Srettha was also aware of the issues. The petition also demands a probe into his ethics as the prime minister.

Praphan noted that Srettha had declined to appoint Pichit in his first Cabinet following questions about his qualifications. He still went ahead and appointed him as PM’s Office Minister in the Cabinet reshuffle.

“This was an intention to violate the charter and ethics of the prime minister to nominate an unqualified person to be appointed by the King as a minister,” Praphan alleged.

Praphan argued that Pichit’s nomination by Srettha particularly violated Article 160 (7) of the Constitution which states: “A minister must not be a person sentenced by a judgment to imprisonment, irrespective of the finality of the case or a suspension of the punishment, except for an offence committed through negligence, a petty offence or a defamation offence.”

Praphan said Pichit was making his own optimistic interpretation by saying he was jailed by a court order, not by a judgment so he had not violated Article 160 (7).

Praphan pointed out that a judgment could also be made in the form of an order and both resulted in the same imprisonment penalty.

In 2008, while representing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a corruption case, Pichit and two junior colleagues were charged with offering a cash bribe of 2 million baht contained in a paper bag to officials of the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.

They were sentenced to six months in jail each for contempt of court despite their argument that the bag was supposed to contain only snacks.

Reacting to the argument by the Pheu Thai Party that Pichit’s appointment in the Cabinet had happened more than 10 years since he had served his prison term, and that he was qualified to become an MP under the charter, Praphan argued that qualifications for Cabinet members are more stringent than those for MPs, and Article 160 (7) overrules the ones for MPs qualifications.

Praphan also noted that even if Pichit resigned as PM’s Office Minister now, it would be too late to prevent the case against Srettha from being heard by the Constitutional Court on whether he had violated Article 160 (7).