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PM under pressure to sack minister over probe

Posted by arnon_k On October - 18 - 2010

SENIOR OFFICIAL SACRIFICES PROMOTION

Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to remove Chavarat Charnvirakul as interior minister _ a move which could disintegrate the Democrat-led administration.

Mr Chavarat, also official leader of the coalition Bhumjaithai Party, has been linked to fraud in a 3.49 billion baht computer leasing scheme of the Provincial Administration Department in a Department of Special Investigation (DSI) inquiry.

The DSI’s findings will be considered by the National Anti-Corruption Commission next week.

Mr Abhisit walked away from reporters when he was asked yesterday how he will take action against Mr Chavarat over the case.

Bhumjaithai de facto leader Newin Chidchob is upset by the DSI’s report and questions the Democrat Party’s motives in trying to speed the inquiry.

If Mr Chavarat is sacked, Bhumjaithai may leave the coalition in protest.

Some observers believe that in the event of a Bhumjaithai walkout, the Democrats will be forced to turn to the “Three Ps” faction of the Puea Pandin Party to shore up its majority.

Seizing its chance, the faction is stepping up pressure on Mr Abhisit to sack Mr Chavarat.

MP Phumin Leekijthiraprasert, attached to the “Three Ps” faction, said the prime minister should take action.

The outcome of the DSI’s graft inquiry into the computer scheme was grounds enough, he said.

The DSI has implicated four senior interior officials including the department’s director-general Mongkol Surasajja, who was backed by Mr Chavarat as new interior permanent secretary, in the alleged irregularities.

“It reflects the minister’s negligence of duty and the minister should be removed to maintain the government’s image,” said Mr Phumin.

“There is no need to wait for the final outcome,” he said, citing Mr Abhisit’s aim, declared when he took office, to ensure clean government.

In a move widely seen as a bid to take pressure off Mr Chavarat, Mr Mongkol yesterday announced that he will not accept the post of permanent secretary.

“I’ve told the interior minister that I have declined the promotion. As a subordinate, if I consider myself unfit for the job, I shouldn’t take it,” he said.

He will hold talks with the contractor Control Data Co about revoking the computer leasing contract.

Mr Abhisit said yesterday that Mr Mongkol’s decision not to take the job has nothing to do with the investigation into alleged graft in the computer leasing scheme. “The inquiry will continue. The two issues are separate,” he said.

Mr Mongkol’s move suggests the Democrat Party and the Bhumjaithai Party are not ready for a break-up and have reached a compromise.

Mr Mongkol’s sacrifice and the cancellation of the deal with the contractor are expected to take the heat off while they are figuring out how to clear Mr Chavarat’s name, said a source.

Democrat leaders are reluctant to bring in the “Three Ps” faction headed by veteran politicians Phinij Jarusombat, Preecha Laohapongchana and Pairote Suwanchawee.

Mr Mongkol insisted he was not under pressure to give up the job.

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