Deputy Prime Minister announced his resignation

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Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit has announced his resignation from the cabinet in the face of mounting pressure over the Alpine land case.

His departure, which will take effect on Monday, is said to have received consent from Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother Thaksin.

A Pheu Thai Party source said Mr Yongyuth’s resignation is largely because the ruling party does not want to take risks as pressure intensifies for him to step down.

The Democrat Party has initiated a campaign seeking the Constitution Court’s ruling on Mr Yongyuth’s status. A civil servant who was dismissed from the service is not qualified to take any political position.

A ruling against Mr Yongyuth may lead to complications, the source said. Among the concerns is the Interior Ministry’s annual reshuffle. An interior minister will have to propose the reshuffle list for cabinet approval. If Mr Yongyuth remained in the post, the approval of his list might become unlawful.

According to the source, Pheu Thai’s strategic panel is divided over Mr Yongyuth’s eligibility but it agrees that the Democrats’ campaign will spell trouble for the government.

“Ms Yingluck doesn’t want him to quit, but the opposition will definitely come after him. The party would rather take no risks,” the source said.

The controversy erupted after the National Anti-Corruption Commission found Mr Yongyuth guilty of malfeasance over his handling of the Alpine land case in 2002.

While serving as deputy permanent secretary for the interior and acting permanent secretary, he approved the sale of monastic land to Alpine Real Estate and Alpine Golf and Sports Club.

The Interior Ministry’s civil service committee resolved to expel him, with the expulsion order retroactively taking effect from Sept 30, 2002. But it claimed that the expulsion was also retroactively overruled by the 2007 Exoneration Act.

Mr Yongyuth’s announcement was made after he paid respects to a senior monk at Wat Sa Ket and took part in a blessing ceremony.

He said he was under no pressure. “As you know, my status is in dispute. Some say I can carry on with my job while others say I can’t. To prevent any problems, I decided to quit. It is of my own free will. There is no pressure or suggestions from anyone,” he said.

Mr Yongyuth remains as Pheu Thai leader and a list MP.

Mr Yongyuth’s resignation has stirred up talk about a cabinet reshuffle that may take place in October or November.

Those close to Thaksin are considering two options – appointing two individuals to fill both vacant seats or having a current minister double as a deputy prime minister and selecting a new interior minister.

The source said former deputy interior minister Sermsak Pongpanit has emerged as a candidate for the interior post.

Three candidates have emerged for the deputy premier’s job – former interior minister Pokin Polakul, former interior minister Chidchai Wannasathit and national police chief Priewpan Damapong, who is retiring.

However, the source said if Mr Yongyuth can clear legal complications by that time, he may be given the interior minister post back.

Pheu Thai yesterday hailed Mr Yongyuth’s resignation as a sacrifice.

Noppadon Pattama, legal adviser to Thaksin, said Mr Yongyuth has acted in the interests of the government and averted any problems that may arise. He insisted Thaksin did not pressure Mr Yongyuth to step down.

Defence Minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat described Mr Yongyuth’s resignation as an act of courage.

However, he said it had nothing to do with setting an example for other politicians. “The issue is about differences in opinions. He decided to quit to avoid complications. That’s courage.” – BangkokPost