TRT sinking like Titanic
Mass exodus of executives, factions follows threat of five-year ban over election violations
Newly appointed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont kneels and wais before His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch, who turns 93 today, at Wat Bowornniwet Vihara in Bangkok yesterday.
The Thai Rak Thai Party is on the verge of falling apart. Announcement No 27 by the Council for National Security (CNS) changing conditions in the act governing political parties has caused party executives and former MPs to jump ship en masse.
Wang Nam Yom leader Somsak Thepsuthin was leading members of the party's biggest faction out the door. Commanding over 100 members, his defection could all but spell the end to Thai Rak Thai's phenomenal domination of Thai politics. Putting the nail in Thai Rak Thai's coffin, deputy leader Sontaya Kunplome also said he and his 20-member faction have resigned.
According to party officials, a total of 62 former Thai Rak Thai MPs have submitted their resignations, 25 of whom are party executives.
Among Son-taya's faction members to resign were Sa-nga Thana-sanguanwong, Ittipon Kunplome, Charnyuth Heng-trakul, Kritsada Karun and Pramote Weerapong.
Somsak's secretary brought the Wang Nam Yom resignation forms to the party yesterday. All resignation letters contained Somsak's signature.
Although no reasons were given in the resignation forms, sources said the faction was alarmed by the CNS' announcement, which will ban executive members of any party for five years if the party is dissolved for breaking electoral laws.
Original laws banned executives of a dissolved party from forming a new party or becoming executives in a new party, but they were free to run in a new election.
The Thai Rak Thai Party is facing trial for allegedly hiring smaller parties to serve as its proxies in the April election, which was later nullified by the courts.
Somsak gave a vague explanation to reporters, saying he wanted to help the country achieve harmony, and that his faction wanted to see things "more clearly" after the September 19 coup.
"Under the current situation, if we are still political party members we can't help our constituency residents who now are suffering because of natural disasters. So we want to be free in order to solve the flood problem," he said.
He was referring to his faction's political stronghold, parts of which are being affected by Typhoon Xangsane.
He declined to say if he would form a new party or move to a new party. Such decisions, he said, would be announced later.
Former Nakhon Sawan MP Banyin Tangphakorn, who is Somsak's secretary, admitted the main reason for the faction members resigning from Thai Rak Thai was because of the CNS announcement.
Somsak and other Thai Rak Thai former MPs discussed whether they would be subject to the five-year ban if they resigned from a party that was to be dissolved later, Banyin said.
"The CNS amended the Political Parties Act on Saturday and that was an obvious signal that certain parties now face dissolution," Banyin said.
Choochai Mungcharoenporn, a key Wang Nam Yom member, believed Thai Rak Thai would be dissolved but that it would not affect those executives who had already quit.
But Thai Rak Thai executive Veera Musigapong said at a press conference that if the party was dissolved, the resigned members would be retroactively affected by the CNS' announcement.
Some legal experts agreed with Veera. "The announcement was meant to punish those serving as party executives at the time of the violation," Thammasat University Rector Suraphol Nitikraiphot said.
Thammasat law lecturer Somkid Lertpaitoon said Thai Rak Thai Party executives decided to resign from the party because they felt the court could not ban them from politics for five years. But he did not think the court would agree with them.
"If the court rules the party is guilty, its executives will be punished even though they have quit as party members now," he said.
As of yesterday, high-profile Thai Rak Thai members who have resigned include former PM's Office Minister Suranand Vejjajiva, deputy leader Surakiart Sathirathai, deputy leader Sora-at Klinpratoom, Suchart Tancharoen, Sontaya and former social development and human security minister Watana Muangsook. Watana was not on the executive board.
Suranand said the military coup prompted him to reconsider his political plans. "When there's a major political change, it's time for me to take a look at myself," he said.
Although he defended the party's policies, a source said the looming possibility of Thai Rak Thai being dissolved had caused Suranand to desert.
Meanwhile, Chon Buri faction leader Sontaya and about 20 other former MPs are expected to move to the Chat Thai Party where he was once a member.
There have also been reports that certain former Thai Rak Thai members plan to form a new political party called "Seri Thai".
It was reported yesterday that other factions lead by Sudarat Keyuraphan and Suwat Liptapanlop were about to make a decision on their future soon.
Pracharaj Party leader Snoh Thienthong said the military council's amendment of the Political Parties Act was a crystal-clear signal that Thai Rak Thai's days were numbered. But he said he remained unsure if the Thai Rak Thai executives could escape punishment by simply fleeing the party.
Thai Rak Thai's website and that of its founder, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, were closed yesterday.