Thailand Court Suspends Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha
The opposition says Prayuth has reached the legal limit of how long he can hold the position
The Constitutional Court of Thailand on Wednesday suspended Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha while it considers a case that could see him expelled from office.
Opposition parties have brought the proceedings arguing that Prayuth, who came to power in a 2014 coup, had reached his eight-year term limit.
What did the judges say?
A court statement said judges had agreed by a vote of 5-4 to suspend Prayuth from office until the case is decided.
"The court considered the petition and supporting documents and deems the facts according to the request indicate reasonable grounds to suspect that there is a case as requested," the statement said.
"Thus, a majority vote for [Prayuth] to be suspended as prime minister, effective August 24, 2022, until the court issues a verdict."
The court did not say when it would issue a ruling on whether Prayuth had breached a term limiting clause in the constitution.
What happens now?
There was no immediate announcement about who would assume Prayuth's duties as acting prime minister.
Under Thai law, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is ranked first among several deputies, would be expected to take over.
Prawit is one of Prayuth's close political allies, coming from the same military clique that mounted a 2014 coup that initially brought him to power.
Judges will have to decide on when Prayuth effectively took power in relation to the kingdom's 2017 constitution, which bars the prime minister from serving more than eight years in total.
Opposition parties that, eight years after he took power in the coup, he had now reached the limit.
However, the 68-year-old leader's supporters say that the clock on his rule began when the 2017 constitution was instituted, or even after the 2019 general election.
According to that logic, Prayuth could technically continue until 2025 or 2027, provided he wins a general election due by March.
Who is Prayuth?
A former army chief, Prayuth gained power in a military coup that ousted the democratically-elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
He led the junta for five years and became prime minister after national elections in 2019.
Prayuth has struggled to find favor with voters and a recent opinion poll found two-thirds of respondents wanted him to quit immediately.
During his period in office, Thailand recorded its worst economic performance in three decades. His government has also faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pro-democracy rallies in Bangkok in 2020 attracted tens of thousands of people at their height, with a key demand from those behind the movement being for Prayut to resign. Rallies have still continued, and Prayuth has faced a succession of no-confidence votes in parliament that he won.
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