A Thai court on Tuesday ordered Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to resign for accepting payments for hosting TV cooking shows, but the governing coalition said it was ready to vote him back into office.
The Constitutional Court ruled that Samak had violated the charter by receiving money for his Tasting and Grumbling and All Set at 6am cooking programmes, ordering him to stand down immediately.
His Cabinet can remain as a caretaker administration for 30 days until Parliament elects a new prime minister, the court said.
The ruling ratcheted up the pressure on the embattled premier, whose offices have been besieged for the last two weeks by protesters demanding his resignation, saying he is a puppet for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
“The Constitutional Court unanimously agreed that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has violated the Constitution, article 267 — therefore his ministerial position has ended,” the verdict read.
“As Samak’s ministerial status has ended, his entire Cabinet must go. But they have to stay as caretaker government until the new Cabinet is formed,” it added.
Despite the ruling by the nine judges, Samak is not barred from standing again for prime minister, and his People Power Party (PPP) said its six-party coalition was prepared to elect him back to the premiership.
“The PPP-led coalition is still willing to support Samak for re-election as prime minister, unless he declines to run. But I believe he will fight,” said PPP deputy leader Kan Tienkaew.
“We respect the verdict, but this case is too technical. We hope that we can urgently elect the new prime minister in Parliament tomorrow [Wednesday],” he said.
Samak himself did not immediately react to the verdict.
The activists vowed to continue their occupation of the Government House despite the ruling.
“We will continue the protest. The PM has stepped down but there’s still the Cabinet. I’m not sure the Cabinet will listen to the law,” said Somsak Kosaisuk, one of the protest leaders.
“The prime minister was supposed to govern but instead he used his time to cook,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
The court accused Samak of lying in his testimony when he said he did not receive payment from television production house Face Media following his election to the premiership.
The court said that he received payments of up to 2 :000 baht ($58) for each taping, which Samak told the court he used to buy ingredients for his recipes and to pay his driver for petrol.
The ruling appeared unlikely to resolve Thailand’s political crisis, which has pummelled the Thai stock market, sending it down nearly 24% since anti-government protests began in late May.
The protesters, who call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), want more than just Samak’s resignation.
They want to curtail Thailand’s democracy so that only 30% of seats in Parliament would be elected, which they say would restrict the influence of poor rural voters who have widely supported Samak.
PAD supporters say the change would ensure that Samak’s allies cannot return to power.
“We’re going to get them all out. They have to improve their morals,” said Permpoon Kanchanastit (66) a retired physician’s assistant who flew from her home in California to join the protest. – AFP