We can't pick a new PM, Thai judge says

BANGKOK - A call by Rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban for the Senate Speaker to consult with the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, Constitutional Court and Election Commission to nominate a neutral PM received a cool reception yesterday with a senior judge saying no charter provision empowered judges to do that. The judge, who asked not to be named, said such a proposal was unprecedented in Thai history.

"Although judges of the Administrative Court, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court were asked to help dissolve a political crisis before the September 2006 coup, their role was only to hear cases righteously and without political bias and not to nominate a PM as demanded by Suthep," he said.

"There is not any provision in the charter that empowers judges with such responsibility. Opponents of Suthep and his People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will reject the proposal and that would not help reduce the conflict. It is not easy for the presidents of the three high courts to nominate a PM because that would involve the courts, which are the country's important institution in politics," the judge said.

The proposal was a sensitive issue as it may be deemed a violation of Royal power, he said, and if rivals of the PDRC did the same move, how could the crisis be resolved?

The government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO) issued a statement against the PDRC proposal, saying it was unconstitutional because the PM must be an MP and voted for by the House of Representatives. Besides, the country was still run by a caretaker Cabinet led by acting PM Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan.

"To appoint a new Cabinet and PM while the current one is still in power is unconstitutional and may be deemed a violation of the royal power," the statement said.

Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said that Suthep's goal in seizing Government House and calling for an "Article 7 PM" was designed to provoke the military to stage a coup the same way the People's Alliance for Democracy group did.

Meanwhile, the government camp has said it plans to arrest Suthep and other leaders today. Department of Special Investigation chief Tarit Pengdith said yesterday the Arintarat police SWAT team was ready to round up Suthep and 13 other PDRC leaders.

Tarit said a court would decide today whether to approve arrest warrants for Suthep and 51 others wanted on 10 serious charges including sedition and insurrection after the Office of the Attorney General had decided to indict them.

"We are confident we will have permission to arrest them and we will have the Anti-Money Laundering Commission seize their assets. The SWAT team is ready, if we have the warrant tomorrow (Monday), we will immediately start the operation," Tarit said.

The DSI chief warned people not involved to stay away from the targeted PDRC leaders or they could risk being injured possibly from stray bullets or clashes, because Suthep and 13 PDRC leaders are heavily guarded. Tarit said different police teams had been assigned to seek an opportunity to nab each of the 14 leaders.

He insisted the operation was not to disperse the anti-government protest and was not directly related to the proposal to nominate a neutral PM.