TV show cooks up problems for Thai PM

Other News Materials 9 September 2008 11:48 (UTC +04:00)

Weeks of violent street protests have not succeeded in forcing embattled Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office. But on Tuesday, he faces the possibility of ouster over something far less incendiary: cooking on a TV show.

Thailand's Constitutional Court is expected to rule on whether Samak violated the country's constitution by taking part in a television cooking show, reported CNN.

Ministers are barred from working for private companies, and Samak's opponents filed the case hoping that a conviction will compel him to step down.

Samak appeared in court Monday, and argued that he had not violated any rules.

His work for the television company, he said, was as a freelancer and not an employee. Further, he said, the show was not on the air any more and that he received just $2,300 for his appearances.

The 73-year-old Samak continued to appear sporadically on the show "Tasting while Grumbling" after he became prime minister in February. On the show, he served up personal favorites and dished on topics that struck his fancy.

Soon after taking office, he told CNN that he was no reason to halt his participation.

"Somebody says as a prime minister, I have time, but I should not do such a thing like that. I said, 'No, I checked the constitution already. There's no obstruction with that,'" he said.

Professor Suchit Bunbongkarn, an expert on the constitution, said the document clearly bans prime ministers from being employed by a private entity.

"It depends on the constitutional court to decide whether receiving money to appear in the programs on the television could be considered an employee of any employer or not," he said.

The court case is another attempt by Samak's opponents who have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at him.

Even if the court rules in his favor, Samak is facing charges of corruption, appealing a three-year prison sentence for defaming a deputy governor and dealing with an election commission decision last week that his party committed electoral fraud in the December elections and should be dissolved.

In addition, thousands of protesters have camped outside the Government House, the government's headquarters -- blocking Samak from entering since August 26.

The protesters are demanding that Samak step down. They accuse him of being a proxy for his ousted predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Samak has strongly denied the allegation and has refused to resign.

On Tuesday, he declared a state of emergency in the capital city of Bangkok after overnight clashes between his supporters and anti-government demonstrators that wounded 40 and left one person dead.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) -- which is heading the protests -- contends Samak is trying to amend the constitution so Thaksin does not have to face charges. Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006, returned to England last month just as he was to appear in court in a corruption case.

Thailand's cabinet said it will now hold a national referendum to determine whether Samak should stay in office -- but it has not agreed on the wording or when it will take place.