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Thai leader ordered to quit over cooking show

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej violated the constitution by hosting television cooking shows and must resign from office, a court ruled on Tuesday.
Thailand Political Unrest
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej checks an anchovy as he shops for items to cook for Thai embassy staff in the Philippines in May.Bullit Marquez / AP File
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej violated the constitution by hosting television cooking shows and must resign from office, a court ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling — which means Samak's Cabinet must also resign  — comes amid a deepening political crisis for Thailand.

Judge Chat Chonlaworn told the Constitutional Court that Samak had "violated Article 267 of the constitution" and that "his position as prime minister has ended."

Thailand's constitution bars government ministers from private employment while in office.

Anti-government protesters have occupied the grounds of Samak's office since Aug. 26, demanding his resignation. Protesters had pledged to end their sit-in at Thailand's Government House if Samak stepped down, but it was unclear if the court's ruling would satisfy them.

Samak whipped up dishes like "salmon coconut soup" during a handful of appearances on "Tasting and Complaining," a mix of traditional Thai cooking and diatribes on the subjects of his choice, which he hosted regularly before taking office in February.

He made about a half-dozen appearances on the show after becoming prime minister — the most recent in May — prompting the senators to petition the Constitutional Court.

The Constitution stipulates that the prime minister is prohibited from holding any position in any business venture.

In his hour-long testimony, Samak told the court that he only received an honorarium from the company that made the show.

"I was hired to appear on the program and got paid from time to time. I was not an employee of the company so I did not violate the law," he said.

'Pigs legs in Coca-Cola'
Samak told the court the television company paid for his transportation.

"I presented the cooking show and got paid for my acting," said Samak, whose recipes include  "pig legs in Coca-Cola."

Samak's love for food and cooking is well known. When visiting Beijing for the Olympics he whipped up a dinner for Thai athletes that included stir-fried chicken with mushrooms and baby bamboo shoots.

Sakchai Khaewwaneesakul, the managing director of the company that produced the show, testified for Samak, saying he paid the prime minister $560 per show for incidental expenses.

"The presenters of our shows are not our employees, but we pay them honorariums," he told the court.

Samak has not been able to enter his office, the Government House, since protesters stormed the compound Aug. 26. Despite facing emergency rule in Bangkok, the protesters have refused to leave. Samak has refused to step down.

The deadlock has made it difficult for the government to function and raised fears of an economic downturn.

Protesters accuse Samak of doing the bidding of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in 2006 by a military coup after demonstrations denouncing him for alleged corruption and abuse of power. The same protest coalition, the People's Alliance for Democracy, has led both the current protests and the ones in 2006.

The People's Alliance for Democracy is a loose-knit group of royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents, and union activists, who accuse him of corruption and violating the constitution. Samak's People's Power Party easily topped the vote in December 2007 general elections, allowing it to form a six-party coalition government.

The Election Commission ruled last week that Samak's party committed electoral fraud in the polls and should be dissolved. The case is also expected to end up in the Constitution Court.

In addition, Samak faces at least three corruption allegations — two concerning his work as Bangkok governor in 2000-2003 — that have yet to reach the courts.