5-4 decision gives judges time to consider opposition’s term limit petition
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha: A surprising Constitutional Court ruling on Aug. 24 temporarily removes Prayuth from office. © Reuters
APORNRATH PHOONPHONGPHIPHAT, Nikkei staff writerAugust 24, 2022 16:12 JSTUpdated on August 24, 2022 20:08 JST
BANGKOK — Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday suspended Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha from duty until it rules on a petition filed by opposition parties that the one-time army chief has served beyond the constitutionally mandated eight years.
Prayuth first awarded himself the prime minister post in 2014, after staging a military coup.
“The court has determined by a 5-4 vote to suspend Gen. Prayuth from the duties of Prime Minister from Aug. 24 onward until the court reaches a [final] verdict,” the court said in a statement.
While Prayuth remains suspended from duty, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will serve as a caretaker prime minister, said Wissanu Krea-Ngam, another deputy prime minister and the government’s legal expert. Prawit is the most senior deputy.
“There is no impact to the country’s administration, civil servants’ performance, or implementation of government policies,” said Anucha Burapachaisri, deputy secretary-general to the prime minister and acting government spokesperson.
According to Anucha, Prayuth said he respected the constitutional court’s decision.
“Prayuth asks the public to respect’s the court’s decision, and to avoid criticism of the court. He asks the public to trust in the rule of law, which is key to peace in a country,” Anucha said.
Prayuth, who concurrently serves as defense minister, will attend cabinet meetings in that role.
The military-drafted constitution promulgated in 2017 after a referendum limits prime ministers to eight years in office cumulatively. The opposition argues that Prayuth’s years as premier began on Aug. 24, 2014, when he received the royal endorsement signed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016.
Members of the ruling party argue that his term began in 2019, when he was elected to the premiership after the first general election held under the latest constitution.
The Constitutional Court petition is the latest attempt to oust Prayuth, and follows four defeated parliamentary censure debates against his government.
As tensions mounted, at least four anti-government groups staged protests at landmarks around the capital, including Democracy Monument, Bangkok City Hall and outside Government House — which was well guarded with riot police and water cannons on standby.
“It depends on when exactly Prayuth’s term started in the eye of the court,” Jade Donavanik, a political scientist at the College of Asian Scholars in Khon Kaen, told the Nikkei Asia. He said “some loopholes” might be explored to reach the verdict.