At 6 o’clock Tuesday morning, according to news reports, Thailand’s prime minister was enjoying a breakfast of pork soup. Then he went shopping for more food at the Udon Thani market.
A few hours later, his love of food cost him his job.
The country’s Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that Samak Sundaravej, a right-wing populist and famous foodie, must resign his position for getting paid to host television cooking shows while in office.
Samak has been the focus of protests that have been roiling Bangkok for weeks. Some see him as a puppet for exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and accuse him of planning to help Thaksin fight corruption charges that forced him from office.
New legal challenges for Samak now include defamation and electoral fraud.
All of that might have forced him from office at some point, anyway. But it was the food that got him.
Samak declared before the ruling that he was not an employee of the TV program and had done nothing wrong. But Judge Chat Chonlaworn said that appearing on the cooking show was a violation of the constitution, and that Samak was no longer prime minister.
Samak was the host of the weekly epicurean show “Tasting and Complaining” for seven years before becoming prime minister, and has appeared occasionally since becoming prime minister seven months ago.
His signature dishes are said to include salmon coconut soup and pork leg marinated in Coca-Cola.
Samak, 73, has long been a celebrity in Thailand, dating back to an 18-month run as a contestant on a popular TV quiz show in the 1950s. His infrequent TV appearances after becoming prime minister were enough for a group of anti-government senators to bring a case against him to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which sent it along to the Constitutional Court.
The court ordered Samak’s entire Cabinet to resign, but ruled it could remain as a caretaker administration for 30 days until parliament elected a new prime minister. That could happen as early as Friday.
Samak is not barred from seeking the prime ministerial post again, and his ruling People Power Party has said it plans to renominate him.
Thousands of demonstrators have occupied Bangkok’s Government House since Aug. 26, when a mob of anti-government protesters stormed the administrative compound to demand Samak’s resignation.
The protesters, who call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, are a mix of mostly middle-class and poor rural Thais protesting corruption. Many were involved in protests preceding Thaksin’s ouster by a military coup in 2006.
The movement’s nominal leader since 2005, media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, 61, wants to establish what he calls “the right blend of democracy.” He has pushed for Thailand’s parliament to be 70% appointed and 30% elected.
Speaking to Asia Times Online, an Internet news agency he owns, Sondhi said, “I’m not against elections, but what I’m saying is that 100% election-based democracy may not be the right answer.”