Thai PM expects fair ruling from judges

BANGKOK, Reuters

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Thursday he expected 15 judges to deliver a fair verdict on whether he should be removed from office over graft accusations.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule any day on whether Thaksin — the country’s most popular leader for years — should face a ban from politics for failing to declare some of his wealth in mandatory asset statements filed in the ‘90s.

But Thaksin told reporters on Thursday he was not worried.

“I am not worried that I would be unfairly treated because I believe in the integrity of each judge in the court. They will do the right thing,” he said.

He said the political uncertainty that has been damaging Thailand’s economy would ease “in the next few days” after the court has made its ruling.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, and has told the court he was guilty only of an “honest mistake”.

Some judges said on Thursday there was a chance the ruling could come as early as Friday. But a few judges said they were unlikely to complete their written opinions before next week. “I think we can vote next week if everyone is ready.

Mine is almost finished but would not be ready on Friday. Some others have also not been completed,” Judge Isara Nitithanprapas said.

Another judge, Mongol Saratan, said he wanted the verdict delivered as soon as possible.

“It is quite close to delivery. I want to complete this responsibility and get it over with. The pressure has turned my face blue,” he said.

Once all 15 judges have finished writing their decisions, court president Prasert Nasakul will immediately call a debate and a vote on the verdict.

The penalty for concealing assets is a five-year ban from politics, although in practice the length of the ban depends on when judges decide it should be deemed to have started.

Judges told Reuters this week that a majority of the court believes any ban should be backdated to November 1997 when Thaksin ended his last stint in office.

This would mean that if found guilty, he could return to politics in around 16 months.

Seven of the 15 judges have told Reuters they believe that if Thaksin is banned, the ban should be backdated to 1997.

One judge thinks it should begin from December 2000, and the remaining seven have not publicly expressed their views.

The length of any ban that Thaksin has to face is seen as a crucial factor for Thailand’s stability. If the ban is backdated, Thaksin could return to power next year and a caretaker prime minister should be able to hold the fort until then.

But if he is forced to wait five years, analysts say, cracks and tensions could emerge in his coalition, which is an uneasy alliance of parties and interest groups.

Thaksin has already said that if he resigns, he will carry on influencing policy from behind the scenes. He is expected to pick a loyal successor who would carry on with his policies.

Thailand has been transfixed by speculation over the fate of telecoms tycoon Thaksin, who swept to power with a landslide victory in a general election in January and retains strong support in the country despite the accusations.

The case hinges on millions of dollars of shares transferred to Thaksin’s domestic staff — including maids, a security guard and a chauffeur — but which were not declared by Thaksin.