Famed Foreign Affairs Minister Faces Axe

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai, right, gestures to reporters May 12, 2016, during a joint news conference with US ambassador Glyn Davies.

BANGKOK — Thailand woke up Friday morning to the news a top minister who’s served as a key diplomat since the Cold War Era could be disqualified from his job.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai might be shown the door after the Election Commission ruled his wife did not disclose she owned over 5 percent of a private company, which would have violated transparency laws, according to reports.

Don would not automatically lose his job. By default, officials must submit their findings to the Constitutional Court where judges would decide his fate. The commission would not confirm the news Friday, but the government did not dispute it either. Deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the cabinet will soon speak about the matter.

“It’s too soon to speak about this,” Wissanu told reporters before heading off for a special cabinet meeting. The 68-year-old minister was not seen at Government House today.

Reached by phone, Don, who was appointed to the job by the junta in 2015, said he was in a meeting and could not comment.

According to reports, the Election Commission received a complaint from a Pheu Thai politician in May 2017 alleging that Don and other eight cabinet members might hold stocks forbidden under current regulations. While others were cleared, the investigation reportedly found Don to be in violation due to the shares held by his wife.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai, at left, meets with his Myanmar’s counterpart Aung Saan Su Kyi in Naypyidaw on May 9, 2016

The Election Commission, the agency tasked with the investigation, is keeping mum. Commission Sec-Gen Charungwit Phumma referred inquiries to chairman Supachai Somcharoen, who in turn could not be reached for comment as of publication time.

In a commission chat group that fields media inquiries, questions about Don’s status went unanswered. A message was later sent that Supachai would hold a news conference in the afternoon.

Don’s portfolio includes ambassadorial posts in the United States, China, the European Union and United Nations. He was also part of a historic delegation that traveled to Beijing on a mission to “thaw” relations with the Communist regime in 1975. Unlike many of his colleagues, his reputation was largely unscathed by scandals and gaffes that have surfaced in recent years.

Even the Pheu Thai politician who filed the complaint against Don reacted with surprise at the news.

“I’m confused, to be honest,” Ruangkrai Leekitwattana said in an interview.

Elaborating on his reaction, Ruangkrai questioned why it took the commission over a year before ruling on his complaint. A similar complaint against 90 members of the junta’s interim parliament over suspicions they illegally held stocks have also gone unanswered, he said.

“Why do they need 13 months?” Ruangkrai said, adding that the officials could simply ask the trade department to confirm who holds what stocks. “If I were on the committee, it would only take a month.”