Six days after quitting his two Cabinet seats, Yongyuth Wichaidit yesterday announced his resignation as the leader and an MP of the ruling Pheu Thai Party. Once again, he insisted he was acting without being pressured by anyone, although he admitted to having “consulted” two persons whom he respects.
With Yongyuth’s departure, the ball is now in the court of Pheu Thai’s decision-makers, who are likely to face a difficult job of finding a new party leader.
As the outgoing party leader has proved, the holder of this position does not need to be a political genius or someone destined to become the party’s choice as prime minister. However, one qualification candidates for the leader’s post must possess is having the trust of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is believed to be calling the shots for the ruling party.
Qualification number two is being dispensable politically. That means Pheu Thai can lose him or her, without the party suffering any severe impact to the party.
With Pheu Thai’s two predecessors having been dissolved over legal problems and their executive members sentenced by courts to five-year bans from politics, the party has avoided filling its executive board with political heavyweights or indispensable politicians.
The third quality required in a new Pheu Thai leader is the ability to command some degree of acceptance and respect from party colleagues.
It is difficult to find all those qualities in a person. Names like Poomtham Wejchayachai and Pracha Promnok have come up as possible candidates, but they and some others may seek greater roles than those played by Yongyuth.
Yesterday afternoon, Yongyuth told a press conference at the Pheu Thai headquarters that he would resign as the party leader and as a party-list MP in order to show his “clear stance on ethical values” and to “protect the party from damaging criticisms”.
“I don’t want people to criticise my beloved political party as lacking ethical value or failing to follow the laws and the rule of law,” he said. However, he also noted that the Council of State and the Civil Service Commission had decided that he had all the qualifications to remain in his political positions.
“If I stay on, I will be called brazen-faced. But my decision to leave may also be described as an escape from scrutiny. I would like to ask the media to tell the truth to the public.”
Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit praised Yongyuth for “setting a new standard in Thai politics” and insisted that the outgoing leader made his decision on his own and that it did not result from any pressure.
“He does not stick to his positions. Instead, he adheres to the benefits of the country, the people, and the party,” said the spokesman.
Prompong said Yongyuth’s resignation would allow “people from the younger generation” to work in his place.
Yongyuth, who will remain a Pheu Thai member, was joined at the press conference by deputy party leader Kunawat Wasinsangworn, Prompong, and a number of party executives and MPs.
A number of party officials gave red roses to Yongyuth at the event. They shouted “Mr Leader, Mr Leader”.
Consulted two persons
Yongyuth told the reporters present that he had consulted two persons that he respected – one of them was Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who he said respected his decision.
When asked if Thaksin knew about his latest decision, Yongyuth responded: “As I already told you, I have two persons who I respect. I greet them when I come and I tell them when I leave.”
As a party-list MP, Yongyuth will be automatically replaced by Malinee Inchat, who is next on Pheu Thai’s party list, according to Prompong.
As his colleagues and some political observers praised Yongyuth once again for stepping down from his party seats, critics and opposition politicians doubted if his decision had anything to do with political spirit or ethical value.
Democrat MP Nipit Intarasombat said he believed Yongyuth’s decision was aimed at avoiding legal problems for the ruling party.
Another Democrat, Satit Pitutecha, said it was a “lie” that Yongyuth resigned for ethical reasons. “If that was the case, he should have quit when the Interior Ministry’s civil service committee resolved to expel him retroactively,” Satit said. He added that the real reason could be a Pheu Thai regulation that its leader must not be dismissed from civil service.
Last Friday, under mounting pressure from critics, the opposition, and inside the party, Yongyuth announced his resignation as deputy prime minister and interior minister. The National Anti-Corruption Commission had earlier found him guilty of wrongdoing in the decade-old Alpine scandal while serving as deputy permanent secretary for the interior.
At the time of announcing his earlier resignation, Yongyuth said he would continue serving as the Pheu Thai leader and a party-list MP.