PPP busy saving itself

By Veera Prateepchaikul

Pressure is mounting on Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab to voluntarily stand down or face the chop by the Constitution Court. The sad part is that it looks like he will have to fight for his survival alone.

All the blessings bestowed on Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasomsab by loyal supporters in his hometown Nakhon Pathom during Songkran may have afforded the minister some temporary relief. But this might not be enough to save his head from the political gallows, as pressure mounts for him to voluntarily stand down or face the chop by the Constitution Court.

Last Friday, 36 elected and selected senators submitted a petition to Senate Speaker Prasopsuk Boondech, demanding the ouster of Mr Chaiya for his failure to report to the National Counter Corruption Commission his wife's shareholdings in excess of the 5% legal limit.

This latest move by members of the Upper House has added pressure on the minister, who already faces an impeachment bid by the Rural Doctors Society and consumer groups enraged by his badly-thought-out initiative to do away with compulsory licensing of life-saving heart disease and cancer drugs, and his threat to remove the chief of the rural doctors. These groups claim they have already collected more than the 20,000 signatures needed to initiate the impeachment process.

To be honest, Mr Chaiya's failure to report his wife's excessive shareholdings must have been unintentional, otherwise he would not have filed an additional report with the NCCC. But unlike criminal proceedings where ''intent'' is a crucial factor in determining whether one should be judged guilty or innocent, the embattled minister's lapse cannot be used as an excuse in this case, as Article 269 of the charter clearly requires cabinet ministers to declare their assets as well as those of their spouses and underaged children within 30 days.

So, intentionally or not, Mr Chaiya will have to face the music. The sad part is that it looks like he will have to fight for his survival alone, without the support of his colleagues in the People Power party, many of whom appear more obsessed with saving their party from possible dissolution. It should be noted that even Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej could not care less about Mr Chaiya's departure, otherwise he would not have told the media that the minister had notified him of his wish to stand down. This, of course, was later denied by the minister himself.

Ministers come and go, like players in a game of musical chairs, so it is said. But PPP members appear determined not to let their party end up in the same unfortunate state as their predecessor Thai Rak Thai, at the hands of the Constitution Court. Hence the collective resolve to rewrite the current Constitution has been given top priority and is moving ahead full steam.

The PPP appears confident it will be able to ram through the constitutional amendments with its majority support in parliament, although there is likely to be opposition from the People's Alliance for Democracy. In order to deflect criticism that its attempt is self-serving, the PPP has opted for rewriting the entire charter, rather than just amending Article 237 which covers party dissolutions, and Article 309 which is about actions undertaken by the coup-makers and endorsed by the interim charter, chief among them being the the appointments of the NCCC, the Assets Scrutiny Commission and the Election Commission.

The party dissolution clause as stipulated in Article 237 may be too harsh and unrealistic and thus in need of changing. But the attempt to get rid of the EC and the NCCC on the flimsy grounds that they were handpicked by the coup-makers and military-installed government, seems too much to swallow.

According to the amended charter, the two commissions are slated to vanish into the political wilderness in six months, after which their replacements will be picked. You can guess where the loyalty will lie for the new graft-busters and the election commissioners. And, Lord have mercy, please do not give us Vasana Permlarp and his gang!

But one can never know, and should not underestimate the psyche of the PPP heavyweights and their ability to shock and amaze. This political chapter of post-charter changes could see the return of the ''living dead'' to politics, including the banned executives of TRT and (who knows?) the disgraced former election commissioners.

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Pcl.

Bangkok Post