Thawil Pliansri. (Screencap: ThaiPBS)

UPDATE: Thailand’s Constitutional Court today decided to accept the petition against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra relating to the transfer of Thawil Pliensri from his position as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011, the Nation reports.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

The legal challenges against the caretaker government of interim-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are mounting as the campaign to  chase her and the ruling Pheu Thai Party out of office gathers steam.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is charging Yingluck with dereliction of duty related to alleged corruption in her government’s rice-pledging scheme, and is also bringing charges against against 308 lawmakers for their role in proposed constitutional amendments, just to name two cases. But since early March, there’s another case that could topple the current government from power.

The Supreme Administrative Court yesterday ruled that the removal of Thawil Pliensri as National Security Council (NSC) secretary in 2011 was unlawful. Mr Thawil was shifted from the position under the orders of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Yesterday’s ruling stated that Mr Thawil (…) must be reinstated to his former role within 45 days. It comes a little more than six months before Mr Thawil’s mandatory retirement in September.

Mr Thawil lodged his initial complaint with the Central Administrative Court in April 2012, accusing Ms Yingluck of unfair treatment after he was transferred from the NSC on Sept 30, 2011.

On May 31 last year, the Administrative Court ruled in favour of Mr Thawil, revoking the prime ministerial order and ordering Mr Thawil’s reinstatement. Appealing against that decision, Ms Yingluck claimed that as head of the government she had the authority to transfer officials to ensure the national administration was in line with the government’s policy manifesto.

However, the court ruled yesterday that while the prime minister could exercise her judgement in transferring personnel, there must be plausible reasons to justify her decisions. Transfers should be free from bias or political preferences, the court said.

Thawil wins fight against NSC transfer“, Bangkok Post, March 8, 2014

Thawil was promoted to head of the NSC in 2009 during the administration of Abhisit Vejjajiva and was transferred to the virtually meaningless position of prime ministerial adviser shortly after Yingluck’s government took charge in August 2011. While such changes whenever a new government comes is nothing unusual, Thawil argues that his move was because of “patronage”:

He was replaced by Pol Gen Vichien Pojposri, then the national police chief, who was replaced by Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, a brother of Khunying Potjamarn Na Pombejra, Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife, and finally by Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanabut.

Thawil case ‘easier way to impeach’“, Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

He went on record to say that the patronage system is “reflected in this unlawful transfer. If the patronage system stays strong, how can civil officials be counted on to do their jobs correctly?” However, his critics would highlight his involvement with the previous Abhisit government and close ties to the military – he was one of the men behind the bloody crackdown on the red shirt protests in 2010, but denies he made any order to kill - as aligning to exactly said patronage system.

Thawil’s repeated appearances on the rally stages of the anti-government protests in the past five months don’t help to deter from that assesment either – so much so that Surapong Tovichakchaikul, one of the men tasked by the prime minister to oversee security, openly declares his mistrust of Thawil and his reinstatement.

While the government publicly states that Thawil will get his job back soon (albeit only for a couple of months until his retirement in September), the case surrounding him could become a bigger legal headache for the government:

Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a senator, wrote on his Facebook page [here] that the transfer of Mr Thawil would be “the knock-out punch” of the caretaker government before or after Songkran.

Thirachai Phuvanatnarabubala, the finance minister in Ms Yingluck’s first cabinet, also quoted on his Facebook [here] another appointed senator, Paibul Nititawan, as saying Ms Yingluck, along with her cabinet, could be impeached much faster over the Thawil case than by the rice-pledging scheme.

Thawil case ‘easier way to impeach’“, Bangkok Post, March 27, 2014

Both of them base their argument on a series of Sections in the Constitution. In a nutshell, Prime Minister Yingluck has allegedly violated the second paragraph of Section 266, since her decision to remove Thawil was politically motivated, since the reshuffle ultimately landed Priewphan Damapong as National Police Chief, who is a brother of Thaksin’s ex-wife and Yingluck’s former sister-in-law Potjaman Na Pombejra:

Section 266: A [MP] and a senator shall not (…) interfere with or intervene in the following matters for personal benefits or for the benefits of others or of a political party, whether directly or indirectly: (…) (2) the recruitment, appointment, reshuffle, transfer, promotion and elevation of a salary scale of a Government official holding a permanent position or receiving a permanent salary and not being a political official, or an official or employee of a Government agency (…)”

Thus she would have breached Section 268 (“The Prime Minister (…) shall not perform any act provided in section 266 (…)“), to which Section 182 would take effect (“The ministership (…) terminates upon: (…) (7) having done an act prohibited by section 267, section 268 or section 269 (…)“) and since it would be Prime Minister Yingluck’s position on the line, a ruling against her could also wipe out the entire cabinet according to Section 180 (“Ministers vacate office en masse upon: (1) the termination of ministership of the Prime Minister under section 182 (…)”).

It is speculated that the Constitutional Court will decide today (Wednesday) whether or not to accept such a petition against Yingluck and her government. The court has an ongoing track record of ruling against this caretaker government (see here, here, here and here) and could potentially deal the knockout blow the anti-government movement – campaigning for five months now – is looking for, paving way for a political vacuum that will allow it to install an unelected government.

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.