Mega-project bill may have bigger consequences

national March 14, 2014 00:00

By Jintana Panyaarvudh
The Nati

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The caretaker Yingluck Shinawatra government may feel relieved after a challenge to its legal status, brought by anti-government protesters, was dismissed by the Constitutional Court.

But more legal action that could affect its status still lies ahead for the government. 
The court on Wednesday rejected a petition from People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) co-leader Thaworn Senneam. 
It claimed that the caretaker PM and the government had lost their status after the House of Representatives failed to convene 30 days after the election, resulting in its inability to choose a new prime minister. 
Both the prime minister’s and the government’s legitimacy could now be challenged by opponents after the latest charter-court verdict ruled the Bt2-trillion borrowing bill for infrastructure projects was unconstitutional. 
The consequence of this mega-project bill may be bigger than the government thought. 
Former Democrat Party MP Wiratana Kalayasiri, a party legal adviser who lodged a petition against the bill with the charter court, said he would pursue the impeachment of Yingluck and her Cabinet as sponsors of the bill. 
It will be the second impeachment threat for Yingluck after the National Anti-Corruption Commission’s decision to press charges against her of negligence in the controversial rice-pledging scheme. If the anti-graft body decides to indict her, Yingluck faces suspension from official duties while the NACC forwards the case to the Senate for impeachment. The Senate could remove her from office later. 
The impeachment case in the rice-pledging scheme will affect only the prime minister. If she is suspended from duty, other deputies will replace her as caretaker PM. 
But the case will be different from the Bt2-trillion borrowing bill. 
Yingluck may claim no blame for sponsoring the bill, but the main opposition party and the anti-government protesters will still put pressure on her to face responsibility for the bill by resigning her post. 
Deputy Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanawisit yesterday posted on Facebook that the whole process of issuing the bill came from the government. 
He said the bill was approved by a resolution by Yingluck’s Cabinet and the government sponsored it before the House. The unconstitutional content in the bill was also written by the Cabinet, not the House of Representatives, he added. 
If the impeachment were to be brought against Yingluck and her Cabinet members by the NACC, and the commission decided to indict the whole cabinet, all would be suspended from their duties. 
The consequence could be a political vacuum and pave the way for a non-elected government. The PDRC has demanded that a provisional government undertake political reforms before the next general election. 
Currently, no winning candidates in the February 2 poll have been endorsed by the Election Commission. So if Yingluck and her Cabinet were suspended after the NACC’s indictment, it is unlikely there would be an appointed government under the Constitution to administrate the country 
It remains uncertain also how and who would replace the government, as there is no law stipulating what should be done in a case like this. 
The PDRC claimed the current Senate Speaker could act as the House Speaker and submit the name of a caretaker prime minister for royal endorsement. 
But others argue it should be the duty of each ministry’s permanent secretary to take over the duty, following state administrative regulation law. That would not be a problem at the ministry level, but it would still have to be decided who among state officials would act as head of the government.  However, legal battles remain as the government itself insists its status cannot end as it is performing caretaking duty. 

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