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PM, Abhisit unsheathe their legal swords

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva individually face legal troubles that could be a turning point for either or both.



By accident or design, the government and the opposition opt to litigate in order to outwit and outlast one another. Both sides are equally committed to vengeful politics and see the legal battle as the only way to settle their old scores.

According to political commentators, Thaksin Shinawatra has singled out Abhisit as his arch-enemy who stands firm against granting amnesty for the fugitive former prime minister.

Soon after Yuthasak Sasiprapha assumed office as defence minister last year, he received an instruction from Dubai to comb for dirt on Abhisit's record in the military service.

Yuthasak reportedly refused to bend the rules to fault Abhisit. This led to him being replaced by Sukampol Suwannathat in January.

Last month Sukampol signed an order to strip Abhisit of his sub-lieutenant rank with effect retroactive from 1989. At issue is not how Abhisit got into the military service but his credentials to hold a seat in the House of Representatives.

In a countermove, Abhisit successfully petitioned for the Administrative Court to review Sukampol's mandate to invoke military rules to penalise a civilian.

The judicial review might take eight months to a year to complete. In the meantime, this has upset the Pheu Thai plan to have Abhisit removed from the scene before pushing for an amnesty and charter rewrite.

Should the government eventually force Abhisit to exit politics before the next general election, it still has no guarantee it could sway his potential successors, such as Surin Pitsuwan and MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra.

As the ruling party tries to subdue Abhisit, the Democrats are busy faulting Yingluck.

In the wake of the censure debate last week, the main opposition party yesterday filed a petition for a graft probe on the prime minister in connection with the rice pledging scheme.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and other graft-busters have been checking into the intervention to boost rice prices since 2001 after Thaksin took power.

Aside from uncovering minor irregularities, a series of graft probes failed to link political overseers and top bureaucrats to the alleged wasteful spending to enrich government supporters.

Although the Democrats re-enacted in detail how price-boosting measures turned out to be a scam, they cited no evidence to prove that the prime minister, Cabinet members or government officials had cheated to amass ill-gotten gains.

In fact, they blamed rice millers and traders for getting a bigger slice of the pie than farmers.

The grilling of Yingluck was similar to that Thaksin faced before his downfall.

But the opposition lawmakers shifted the focus from trying to implicate coalition leaders in the scam to accusing them of a lapse of duty in not keeping the rampant corruption in check.

Abhisit and his fellow Democrats made a groundbreaking move in their attempt to hold Yingluck accountable for the scam. Instead of accusing her of corruption, which is very difficult to prove, they opted for a lesser charge of lapse of duty.

What the Democrats are expecting is not prosecution for graft violations, but an NACC ruling that suspects foul play in condoning corruption, which would automatically suspend Yingluck from duty, triggering a collapse of the government.




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