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Thawil case could force Yingluck's exit

Political vacuum looms as cabinet faces dismissal if court rules in favour of petition

THE LATEST legal challenge against embattled caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could lead to her dismissal and the removal of the entire Cabinet from office.

The threat results from the Constitutional Court's decision yesterday to proceed with a case against the prime minister over an alleged conflict of interest in her removal of security tzar Thawil Pliensri.

The Constitutional Court accepted for consideration a petition filed by a group of senators accusing Yingluck of abusing her power to dismiss National Security Council chief Thawil. The petition was based on the Supreme Administrative Court's ruling that the transfer of Thawil to the position of prime minister's adviser was unlawful.

The senators accused her of removing Thawil to pave the way for one of her relatives, Pol General Priewpan Damapong, to take the position of police chief.

Legal experts expect the court won't take long to come to a verdict on the case. The court has demanded that Yingluck defend herself within 15 days, but she will certainly ask for an extension.

Political observers say the case could deliver a fatal legal blow to Yingluck and her caretaker government, because if she is found guilty of breaching the Constitution, she will lose the premiership automatically and her entire Cabinet could be removed too.

Observers believe the court is likely to rule against her based on the Supreme Administrative Court's verdict that the transfer of Thawil to the position of prime minister's adviser was unlawful.

Yingluck is likely to face the same fate as late prime minister Samak Sundaravej, who was purged from office in 2008 after the Constitutional Court ruled he had violated the Constitution by accepting payments to appear on cooking TV shows while in office. As a result of the decision against Samak, his entire Cabinet was also required to step down.

Citing the charter's Articles 172 and 173, the senators' petition says the House of Representatives should approve a suitable person as prime minister within 30 days of the premier being disqualified.

If the court rules against Yingluck, it would lead to a political vacuum, because the country currently has no House of Representatives. So, if Yingluck and the Cabinet are removed as a result of the verdict, the country would have no government.

Such a political vacuum would offer an upper hand to the anti-government protesters, who want her to step down to make way for an unelected government.

There remains, however, no clear legal answer as to how to install a new government without a House of Representatives. The current charter requires that the House approve the premier, who must be an elected MP. The government could argue by citing Article 181 of the Constitution that the outgoing Cabinet must remain in office until a new government is sworn in.

Caretaker Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang said the latest legal salvo against Yingluck would likely hit her sooner than other cases handed down by the anti-graft body. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is considering charges of dereliction of duty against Yingluck in the loss-making rice-pledging scheme. If indicted, she would have to suspend her duties while the Senate decides whether to impeach her.

"There is a 50-per-cent possibility that the government could be toppled this month," he said.


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