Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Tawil-Yingluck face-off gets complicated

Expect a drawn-out battle between Premier Yingluck Shinawatra and Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary general of the National Security Council, demanding to be returned to his former post. The Administration Court last week ruled that the premier must give him back the previous position.

Several complications are bound to emerge. For one thing, the premier isn’t likely to comply with the court’s order immediately. Thawil was a tough-talking bureaucrat who mounted a relentless campaign against being transferred from his NSC post to become an adviser to the prime minister. He wasn’t considered “one of us” within the Yingluck government who almost immediately upon taking office replaced Thawil with an “insider” – Lt Gen Paradon Pattanatarbutr.

Thawil fought the case with vehemence. He claimed that the transferred was carried out unfairly and that he had done nothing wrong to deserve the move. The premier had said the transfer was aimed at “boosting the efficiency in implementing government policies because Thawil was well versed in national security affairs and would be able to better serve the government as adviser to the prime minister.”

Thawil took the matter up with the Administration Court, seeking a return to the post, citing unfair practices.

The court’s verdict sided with Thawil, the premier’s official reason for the transfer did not match real action. Part of the ruling read:

“The position of NSC secretary general carries a higher degree of responsibility (than those of a premier’s adviser) and the incumbent could offer advice to the prime minister (without having to be transferred anyway…”

The court also ruled that the transfer had been carried in violation of normal practices which state that recipient unit must initiate the move by seeking the superior’s approval before putting a written request to the work unit of the person involved. That process apparently wasn’t followed.

Once politicians are in power, they tend to think they could move bureaucrats around without having to comply with the established rules. Or perhaps, the premier might have been ill advised, having just taken over office, as to how to reshuffle technocrats around without facing court cases.

Technically, Premier Yingluck doesn’t have to comply with the court’s order immediately. She has the right of appeal – and there is little doubt that she will pursue that path. Accepting the verdict without putting up a fight would entail further problems. Several other prominent bureaucrats who have complained about being edged out of their positions for “political reasons” have lodged similar complaints. Those who haven’t done so may be emboldened by Thawil’s case.

Thawil himself has made no secret of his desire to encourage others in a similar situation to follow his example. He told reporters: “My advice to government officials who have been maltreated the same way not to submit to political pressure. If they are bullied, don’t go down on your knees to ask for mercy. That would not futile. They should follow the procedure available to them. That means to fight. To win or lose is another thing. Bureaucrats shouldn’t fight among themselves. In most cases, it’s the politicians who bully officials…”

Another possible complication is related to the fragile ongoing peace talks with representatives from Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). The Thai official delegation is led by the current NSC secretary general, Lt Gen Paradon Pattanatabutr. The fact that the incumbent may have to vacate his seat to make way for his predecessor’s return has thrown a spanner in the works.

Opposition Democrat Party’s deputy leader Thaworn Senneam has already called for the postponement of the peace dialogue until the government resolves the uncertainty over the leadership at the NSC. The premier will have to decide how to handle this highly sensitive issue that has both domestic impact and regional consequences.

It’s a Catch-22 situation for the premier. If she doesn’t appeal the verdict, her political clout would be dented. If she does, Thawil is set to mount his second attack. He says he will take the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission if the premier decided to appeal “in order to protect myself from further persecution.”

Either way, the battle promises to be a long, painful one

No comments: