Thai senate speaker suspended for charter bill

BANGKOK - A Thai anti-corruption panel suspended the senate speaker Thursday for supporting a failed legislative attempt by the party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to make the upper house fully elected.

Nikom Wairatpanij now faces an impeachment vote and a possible political ban linked to the attempt to amend the constitution to reform the senate, Thailand's upper house.

He is one of hundreds of mostly pro-Yingluck politicians charged by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) over the bill.

The legislation was deemed by the Constitutional Court in November to be unconstitutional.

Yingluck faces a series of legal challenges, including negligence charges connected to a rice subsidy scheme, that are seen by her supporters as part of an attempted power grab through the courts.

If deemed guilty by the NACC, whose mandate includes investigating possible abuse of power, she could face a five-year political ban.

Experts say that in this scenario control of the senate could be important because the lower house was dissolved before a February election that has not yet been completed due to disruption by opposition protesters.

Thailand is due to hold polls on March 30 for the elected seats in the senate, which is officially non-partisan.

Yingluck has faced more than four months of mass street protests seeking to force her from office and install an unelected government to oversee reforms and curb the dominance of her billionaire family.

The rift pits Yingluck and her followers - mostly from northern Thailand - against an opposition which enjoys support in Bangkok, the south and among the Thai elite.

Political violence, often targeting protesters with gunfire and grenade blasts, has left 23 people dead and hundreds wounded during the recent crisis.

On Tuesday Thailand ended a state of emergency in force for almost two months in Bangkok and surrounding areas, reflecting an improvement in security since protesters scaled down their rallies at the start of March.

The Constitutional Court is due Friday to deliver a ruling on a new legal attempt to nullify the February 2 election. A similar request, submitted by the opposition, was rejected by the same court last month.