BANGKOK - What anti-government protesters failed to accomplish, Thailand's courts have. In a landmark decision, the Constitution Court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from the premiership on conflict of interest charges related to his role in hosting two television cooking programs while in office.
The ruling will also eventually dissolve Samak's cabinet, which by Thai law will serve in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed within the next 30 days. The government's six coalition partners are expected to meet on Tuesday evening to discuss the selection of a caretaker premier. Former prime minister and Chat Thai party leader Banharn Silpa-archa is widely tipped to take the interim post. News reports also speculated that first Deputy Prime Minister and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, will be caretaker prime minister.
The decision is not expected to immediately defuse Thailand's escalating political crisis, but rather could intensify anti-government protests if Samak is eventually re-appointed to the premiership - as his ruling People's Power Party vowed to do before the verdict was announced. Despite the guilty verdict, Samak retains all of his political rights and his coalition partners have until now supported his stance not to dissolve parliament and call for new polls.
What is clearer is that Thailand's judiciary is showing unprecedented muscle in arbitrating the country's political problems.
Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia Editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.