|NOMINATIONS CRISIS: PM in the eye of twin storms
Published on August 30, 2005 - Pressure intensifies over auditor-general, military reshuffle; Thaksin meets with HM the King amid unresolved problems
Prime Minister Thak-sin Shinawatra was granted an audience with His Majesty the King yesterday even-ing, before heading to Japan today amid an apparently deepening political crisis over the auditor-general and uncertainties about the latest military reshuffle.
The two issues have become intertwined as both involve unprecedented waits for royal approval for what are supposed to be routine bureaucratic and military nominations.
Senior government officials declined to comment on the meeting at the royal retreat in Hua Hin.
But there is growing pressure on Senate Speaker Suchon Chalee-krua, who had tears brimming in his eyes yesterday when asked if he would resign after waiting nearly three months for royal endorsement of the supposed successor of virtually suspended Auditor-General Jaruvan Maintaka.
“I don’t think it has to do with me quitting or staying,” said Suchon, who is facing heat from political action groups demanding his resignation, a clarification to the Thai public, and an apology to the monarch.
There have been deafening calls for the Senate, the Constitution Court and the Office of the Auditor-General to seek a way to nullify the nomination of Visut Montriwat as Jaruvan’s successor, which has hung in limbo. Jaruvan was virtually relieved of her duty when the court ruled against her nomination process – a verdict that has been widely questioned – and she has been steadfast in her resistance to stay on as auditor-general unless there is a royal command saying otherwise.
“There will be no more talk or announcement until there’s a royal decision on the matter,” Suchon said.
Apart from Suchon, the issue has put virtually the entire Senate in hot water because if Jaruvan’s “removal” was deemed unconstitutional, then so was Visut’s nomination.
Thaksin managed recently to quell a brewing rebellion by a faction of Thai Rak Thai MPs who support Jaruvan, so the issue threatens to revive a political revolt.
Equally ominous is the royal silence on military nominations engineered by the Supreme Commander Chaisit Shinawatra, the PM’s cousin.
The Manager daily yesterday launched a stinging attack on Chaisit and Thaksin, following the supreme commander’s comment that the reshuffle list can no longer be changed after it has been signed by the prime minister. The paper, which has switched its staunch pro-government stand to a very critical one, said the government should take note of His Majesty’s legal and conventional powers to veto, appoint or remove when it comes to highest bureaucratic or military transfers.
“There have been alarming signals – not once, but twice – to warn the government that what it is doing is not right,” said Chulalongkorn political scientist Trakul Meechai. “And these alarms are much louder than the ones generated by the prime minister’s Japanese toy used at last week’s press conference [to snub some reporters’ questions].”
To steer his government out of major political trouble, Thaksin is likely to intervene to correct any erroneous decisions in the list of military appointments, according to leaks from Government House and the Defence Ministry.
Thaksin is expected to adjust certain commanding positions to comply with precedents.
The list was approved by Thaksin on August 18 but has yet to receive royal assent. The delay is unprecedented and follows rumours of political interference and tampering with military traditions.
In the final stage of preparations, the Defence Council convened early this month to vet potential nominees for positions as commanders of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the supreme commander, and the permanent secretary for Defence.
As the Defence Ministry was about to forward the military line-up for review by the prime minister, outgoing Supreme Commander Chaisit sought and received a private meeting with his cousin Thaksin. The list that emerged a day later appeared to differ from that prepared by the Defence Council.
Top military leaders have apparently distanced themselves from the changed list.
After the government forwarded the list to the Royal Palace, court protocols prescribe for Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda to scrutinise it beforehand.
Last Monday, Defence Minister Thamarak Isarangura was summoned to meet with Prem. Informed sources said Prem had made one or two observations about the list, expressing his concern for upholding the military institution.
In the last week, Chaisit reiterated twice that the prime minister had already approved the military reshuffle, therefore the line-up was “non-reversible”.
Chaisit has pushed for his chief adviser General Ruangroj Mahasaranont to succeed him after his retirement next month.
Ruangroj, a military classmate of Chaisit, would have a one-year term to complete any unfinished business left by his predecessor.
Chaisit’s recommendation for his deputy, Admiral Sathirapan Keyanon, to lead the Navy has also faced strong opposition on grounds it would upset the career paths of young naval officers. If his appointment goes through, Sathirapan would move from the Supreme Command headquarters to the Navy.
Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal Raden Puengpak, top contender for the position of Air Force commander, has been linked to a Bt90-million scandal relating to the repair of helicopters and is yet to clear his name.