Thai court to rule on Prayuth’s term limit as protests continue

Thai court to rule on Prayuth’s term limit as protests continue

Thailand’s constitutional court is due to decide whether to hear a petition challenging Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s right to remain in office.

Authorities in the Thai capital, Bangkok, ramped up security at the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, with protesters demanding Prayuth’s resignation expected to rally in the city for a second day.

The main opposition party and many Thais believe Prayuth, who took power in a 2014 coup, should step down immediately, because the constitution limits prime ministers to eight years in office. They say the eight years ended on Wednesday.

But Prayuth’s supporters contend the countdown on his term began after 2014.

They say the current constitution, which contains the provision limiting the prime minister’s tenure, came into effect on April 6, 2017, and that should be used as the starting date. Another interpretation favouring his continuing tenure is that the countdown began on June 9, 2019, when Prayuth took office under the new constitution following a 2019 general election.

He must call new elections by next year, in any case.

A petition from opposition legislators arguing that Prayuth has reached the eight-year limit was sent on Monday to the constitutional court.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok, said it was not clear if the court would go ahead with the case.

“The court has generally backed this government and five of those nine judges have been put in place by Prayuth’s administration. So they may be unlikely to go against him,” said Cheng.

“I think this is the opposition parties really trying to increase the pressure on Prayuth. There has been a feeling that his administration has mismanaged certain affairs, including the COVID shutdowns, and increasingly, a cost of living crisis that is hitting many Thais in the pocket.”

In 2020, thousands of people took to the streets in multiple protests to demand that Prayuth and his cabinet resign, while calling for the constitution to be amended and the monarchy to be reformed. The student-driven movement was sparked in part by the court-ordered dissolution of the popular opposition Future Forward Party.

The protest movement at one point attracted crowds of 20,000-30,000 in Bangkok. Several confrontations with the authorities grew violent. A legal crackdown on activists, arrested in many cases under a law against insulting the monarchy because of their criticism of the royal institution, has embittered Prayuth’s critics more.

The major faction of the protest movement, calling itself Ratsadon (The People) issued a statement on Sunday affirming its call for Prayuth’s removal.

“For more than eight years, Thai society has fallen under the darkest and most bitter times. A period under the rule of a tyrant who took power away from the people. A tyrant who inherits power through a mechanism without democratic legitimacy,” the statement said.

It declared that the constitutional court “must listen”.

“We, the people, are hopeful that deep down, you, and General Prayuth’s cronies will come to your senses and realize that the time of General Prayuth as prime minister of Thailand has come to an end according to the 2017 constitution of Thailand.”