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Friday, March 31, 2023

Thai PM suspended while court decides if he defied term limits

After a court ordered the suspension of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Wednesday while it investigated whether he had breached the position’s legal term limitations, Thailand’s government convened its first formal sessions on Thursday with an acting prime minister in charge.

Since the Constitutional Court has often sided with the government in a number of political matters, Prayuth’s resignation is probably only going to be temporary. The court’s ruling, according to the deputy Prime Minister’s Office spokeswoman Tipanan Sirichana, means Prayuth is suspended until a final determination; however, no date has been set for that.

Prayuth’s responsibilities have been taken over by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who now serves as acting prime minister. He presided over a committee meeting on communications amid national catastrophes on Thursday that he was originally supposed to attend.

Prayuth has maintained his other Cabinet role as defense minister while being suspended from his responsibilities as prime minister. In that capacity, he participated via video at a monthly meeting of the government’s Defense Council.

Any court decision permitting Prayuth to continue serving as prime minister runs the risk of igniting a protest movement that has long sought to remove him and reopening deep fissures in Thailand, which has been shaken by recurrent bouts of political chaos since a coup toppled then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Since then, Thaksin, a telecommunications millionaire whose populist appeal endangered the established power structure, has stayed at the forefront of the nation’s politics as his followers and opponents engaged in often violent street battles for control. The 2014 coup forced his sister’s administration from office.

Anucha Burapachaisri, the spokesperson, urged people to follow Prayuth’s lead and accept the court’s ruling. Prawit, a close political supporter of Prayuth and a member of the same military clique that carried out the coup, is also despised by those who want Prayuth gone.

“Prayuth not. Prawit not. No military coup government,” a significant protest organization proclaimed after the court ruling on Wednesday.

A fresh call for demonstrations was made by the organization known as Ratsadon, or The People, but few people responded.

Detractors of Prayuth claim he has broken a rule that prohibits prime ministers from serving for more than eight years, which they claim he did on Tuesday after assuming office on August 24, 2014.

But according to his supporters, his tenure should begin upon the 2017 implementation of the present constitution’s term-limit clause. Another interpretation would begin the countdown in 2019, the year he legitimately earned the position after a general election.

The case, in which a court is determining whether a coup leader has held office for an excessive amount of time, highlighted the unique political culture of Thailand. Frequently, the soldiers who overthrow elected leaders then attempt to legitimize their rule and quell opposition by holding elections and abiding by constitutional restrictions.

The court decided to remove the prime minister from office while it hears a petition from opposition MPs on Wednesday by a vote of 5 to 4. Despite without specifying a deadline for its decision, the court’s notification required Prayuth to file his defense within 15 days after receiving a copy of the lawsuit. He was able to continue serving as defense minister thanks to the decision.

According to polls, Prayuth’s popularity is at an all-time low because of how poorly he has managed the economy and Thailand’s reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tens of thousands of protesters protested in 2020, demanding the resignation of Prayuth and his Cabinet as well as changes to the constitution and the monarchy.

Authorities and the student-led protest movement clashed violently on many occasions. A legal crackdown on activists infuriated detractors even more.

Since Sunday, modest demonstrations calling for Prayuth’s resignation have been staged everyday, although they attracted little attention. If Prayuth didn’t resign, the Constitutional Court would order him to do so.

“I’m quite happy. General Prayuth has been in office for a while and hasn’t shown any desire to improve the nation, according to Wuttichai Tayati, a 28-year-old marketing professional, who was speaking out at a demonstration in Bangkok on Wednesday. “At least getting rid of him for the time being would help Thailand advance a little.”

Even if Prayuth leaves, the impasse won’t end if Prawit takes his place.

Prawit, 77, was tarnished by accusations that he had illegally accumulated a collection of expensive watches that he couldn’t possibly afford on a government salary, in addition to his close ties to the military clique that seized power; however, a court accepted his explanation that the watches were gifts and cleared him of wrongdoing.

It is unclear whether Prawit would or could become prime minister if the court finds against Prayuth. He is more renowned as a behind-the-scenes political organizer and has openly said his health is not great.

Legal experts believe that the tiny pool of candidates that the nation’s political parties nominated for the position after the 2019 general election would ultimately have to provide the successor. Prawit was not on that list, yet it seems plausible that he may be nominated in the event of a tie.

Prayuth has until March to call a fresh poll, however he has the ability to do so earlier if he is not removed from power.

The eight-year term restriction was intended to go after Thaksin, whose political apparatus is still quite potent. The administration of Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin, was overthrown in a coup in 2014.

Thaksin’s popularity was seen as a danger to both the country’s monarchy and Thailand’s old conservative governing elite, which included the military. The courts have frequently ruled against Thaksin and other challengers while standing up for the existing system.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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