A major reshuffle is on the cards after three cabinet ministers were among 26 people who were on Wednesday given varying jail sentences for their roles in street protests that ousted the Yingluck administration.
Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, both from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam from the Democrat Party were found guilty by the Criminal Court of charges relating to demonstrations led by the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
They were indicted on several charges including insurrection, criminal association, illegal assembly and obstructing others from casting votes during street protests between November 2013 and May 2014 to oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government
Mr Buddhipongse was sentenced to seven years; Mr Nataphol received seven years and four months and Mr Thaworn received five years.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Wednesday the cabinet ministers lost their posts as soon as the jail sentences were handed down, citing Section 160 (7) of the 2017 constitution. It says that a cabinet minister must not be a person who is sentenced to prison, regardless of whether the case is finalised or the jail term is suspended, except in cases where the charge is a minor one or involves defamation.
Asked if these three cabinet ministers would also lose their MP status, Mr Wissanu said they would keep their parliamentary status if the court did not slap a political ban.
Reports emerged that Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow and Deputy Labour Minister Narumon Pinyosinwat are eyeing the posts left vacant by Mr Buddhiponse and Mr Nataphol.
The trio were among 39 people who were indicted on multiple charges and who pleaded not guilty during their arraignment at the Criminal Court in 2018. The treason charge against the 39 defendants was dropped. As the trial proceeded, one of the defendants, Gen Preecha Iamsupan, died.
All defendants, apart from one, turned up for the ruling yesterday. Pol Lt Col Pattarapong Supiyapanich, who was detained in another case, heard the ruling via a video conference. Of the remaining 38 defendants, 26 were given varying jail sentences. The court suspended the terms for 12 while not doing so for the remaining 14.
The court started reading the ruling shortly before 11am and finished at 5.20pm.
Besides the cabinet ministers, former PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban received five years; Democrat MP for Chumphon, Chumpol Julasai, received 11 years and Democrat list-MP Isara Somchai received eight years and four months.
Suvit Thongprasert, formerly known as Luang Pu Buddha Isara, was sentenced to four years and eight months while activist Samran Rodpetch was given three years and four months.
In its ruling, the court revoked the political rights of six people — Mr Nataphol, Ms Taya Teepsuwan, Mr Chumpol, Mr Isara, Mr Suvit, and Mr Samran. Among those who received suspended jail terms were TV host Anchalee Paireerak, Thai-Indian businessman Satish Sehgal, Mr Nataphol’s wife — Taya, and former Democrat MP Witthaya Kaewparadai.
Those who were acquitted included Democrat MPs Sathit Wongnongtoey and Rangsima Rodrassamee, PPRP MP and deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan, and senator Thawil Pliensri.
Mr Suthep wrote on his Facebook that even though key PDRC leaders and supporters were sentenced to prison, they remain committed to upholding the nation, religion and the monarchy.
After the ruling, eight people were escorted to prison including Mr Suthep, Mr Chumpol and the three cabinet ministers