BANGKOK (AFP) – A legal showdown that could oust embattled Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha reaches the country’s constitutional court this week, threatening fresh political turmoil for the kingdom just months before national elections.
The former general has clung on to office through major anti-government protests in 2020, a bruising pandemic, a faltering economy and scores of political near-misses – but now the very constitution whose design he oversaw is being used against him.
Opponents of the 68-year-old – who seized control in a coup – are agitating for his removal under rules limiting a prime minister to a maximum of eight years in office, a threshold they say he will reach on Wednesday (Aug 24).
While the outcome is uncertain, many observers think the court will rule in Mr Prayut’s favour.
His adversaries say his term started when he took power in the coup in May 2014, the latest of the more than a dozen military putsches to upend Thai politics since the birth of democracy in 1932.
But supporters say he has been the premier from 2017 – when the current army-drafted constitution was implemented – or in 2019, when he controversially won much-delayed national polls.
Opposition parties have asked the constitutional court to rule on when Mr Prayut’s term ends, and on Wednesday, the judges are expected to say whether they will consider the case.
If it accepts the case, the court could suspend Mr Prayut from office.
The former general – who has held on to power with a tenacity few anticipated – appears unruffled by the latest drama.
“Let the court decide,” he told opponents before he appeared outside parliament, brandishing a “rock on” hand sign at bemused reporters.
The court has played a key role at important moments in the upheavals that have convulsed Thai politics over the last 20 years, cancelling general election results in 2006 and 2014.
“I would not be surprised if the verdict of the Constitutional Court would be in favour of Prayut,” political analyst Napisa Waitoolkiat at Naresuan University told AFP.
Such a decision, anticipated by many, could see him remain prime minister until 2025 or 2027 – if he and his Palang Pracharat party can win re-election.