BANGKOK – Thailand's anti-graft body indicted the speaker of the Senate on Thursday for alleged wrongdoing when he cut off debate and called a vote on a bill to amend the constitution, officials said.
Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij will be immediately suspended from his post while the Senate decides whether to impeach him, National Anti-Corruption Commissioner Prasart Pongsivapai said. A vote by more than three-fifths of the active senators is needed to impeach him. It is unclear how long the process will take, and Thailand is to hold Senate elections on March 30.
The decision is a blow for the embattled government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who also faces negligence charges over an expensive and highly criticized rice subsidy program. The constitutional amendment was initiated by her ruling party in an attempt to convert the Senate into an all-elected body that it could then control.
About half of the seats in the 150-member Senate are currently appointed. The bill was passed by the ruling party-controlled Parliament but was struck down by the Constitutional Court in November.
The anti-graft commission is one of several nominally independent agencies which belong to the executive branch but function outside the Cabinet's authority. It has powers to investigate and prosecute elected politicians and civil servants.
Prasart said the commission ruled that Nikom had allowed the deliberation of the bill to end abruptly last September, based on a majority vote in Parliament, even though a number of lawmakers were still waiting to discuss it.
"The use of the majority voice must not eliminate the rights of other parliamentarians altogether. To abruptly end the debate is considered a malfeasance to unfairly benefit the majority and is against the rule of law," Prasart said.
The anti-corruption body said it is still investigating charges against the House speaker.