Thai court rules PM can stay, hasn’t exceeded term limit


BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha could stay in office and did not violate a constitutional provision limiting him to eight years in office.

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha could stay in office and did not violate a constitutional provision limiting him to eight years in office.

Opposition lawmakers had asked the court to rule on their claim that Prayuth, who took power as army commander after a 2014 coup, breached the eight-year limit on prime ministers which was first included in the 2017 Thai Constitution.

Prayuth officially became prime minister in a military government in August 2014 and was reappointed prime minister again after a 2019 election. Using 2014 as his starting date, he would have reached his legal limit last month.

He and his supporters have argued that the countdown to the term limit should begin when the current constitution takes effect in April 2017, which would allow him to serve until 2025 if he is re-elected after the next general election. .

The nine-member tribunal said in a majority opinion that because the constitution came into effect after Prayuth had already assumed power, the term limit did not apply to the time he had previously served, as the constitution did not specify that it could be applied retroactively.

Prayuth will still face a political settlement early next year when parliament’s four-year term expires and a new election must be called. His approval ratings are low, with critics saying he mismanaged the economy and botched Thailand’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, tens of thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation of Prayuth and his cabinet, while also calling for constitutional change and reform of the monarchy. Several clashes between the student protest movement and the authorities turned violent. Activists have threatened further protests if the court favors Prayuth, raising fears of further unrest.

Last month, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended Prayuth from serving as prime minister pending his decision. His cabinet’s first deputy prime minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, became acting prime minister, while Prayuth retained his concurrent post as defense minister.

Had Prayuth been kicked out on Friday, power would have handed over to a caretaker government with limited executive powers, assembled from the current cabinet, which would have sat until parliament elected a new prime minister.

The eight-year limit was aimed at targeting former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 but whose political machine remains powerful. In 2014, the military also overthrew the government of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who was forced out of office shortly before taking power by a controversial court ruling.

Thailand’s traditional conservative ruling class, including the military, saw Thaksin’s popularity as a threat to the country’s monarchy as well as his own influence. The courts have been staunch defenders of the established order and have consistently ruled against Thaksin and other challengers.

Grant Peck, The Associated Press


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