The Constitutional Court suspended Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha from his post. On Wednesday, the court accepted a lawsuit from the opposition, according to which the head of government, who has been in office since a coup in 2014, had already reached the end of his constitutionally set term of eight years. Prayuth is not allowed to continue in his position pending a decision in the case.
Supporters of the 68-year-old leader argue that Thailand’s new constitution has only been in effect since 2017. Only Prayuth’s term has been counted since 2017 or even since the general election in 2019. If judges follow this logic, Prayut can remain in office until 2025 or 2027 – if he wins the next general election scheduled for March next year.
Prayut’s former deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, will be in charge of official business as interim chief minister until a decision is made by the Constitutional Court. Wisano Kri Ngam, one of the six deputy prime ministers, said the government would “continue its business as usual because General Prayuth was not dismissed from his post, but merely suspended”. He will also sit in the government as defense minister.
The opposition criticized Prayuth’s move to Prawitt. Peta Limgarunrat of the opposition Move Forward party, a supporter of the suit, said the country needed new leadership.
Former army chief Prayuth came to power in a 2014 military coup against the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra. He headed the military government for five years before being appointed prime minister in the 2019 elections.
Lately Prayuth had increasingly fallen back on voter preference. In a recent poll, two-thirds of those questioned said he should resign immediately.
Several hundred government opponents gathered in the run-up to Tuesday’s court ruling at the Democracy Monument in the Thai capital, Bangkok. More demonstrations are planned. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office called on “all groups” to respect the court’s decisions and avoid criticizing them.
Experts interviewed by AFP expect that judges will eventually decide in Prayuth’s favour. “The long list of unilateral decisions that have benefited Prayut Chan or Cha speaks for itself,” said Thetinan Pongsudirak, a professor of political science at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
The reason for this is the 2017 constitution. Although it sets the term of prime minister at eight years, it was drafted under the Military Council and is considered to serve the interests of the military.
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