Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has not violated an eight-year term limit despite being in office since 2014, the constitutional court has ruled, paving the way for him to remain in power.
Mr Prayuth, a general who was named prime minister by a military government after leading a coup more than eight years ago, was again elected to office in 2019.
Opposition politicians argued that using August 2014 as a starting date, he would have reached his legal term limit last month.
Their petition to the country’s highest court was rejected, however, because the term limit of eight years was only introduced in 2017 with the implementation of a new constitution drafted by the junta government.
The court ruled that the eight years should count from that date, meaning Mr Prayuth could potentially serve until 2025.
The prime minister respects the apex court’s decision, said a government spokesperson.
“From now, the prime minister will proceed to its completion so that the country will progress,” added spokesperson Anucha Buraphashaisri.
The prime minister is, however, expected to face a political reckoning with risks of protest as several in the country long opposed his government because he came to power undemocratically. There have been calls for a demonstration ahead of the court ruling, with a promise to bring more pressure if he stays.
Mr Prayuth is also, likely to face a challenge to his premiership next year when his four-year term in office expires. His popularity ratings have also slumped with critics slamming him for mishandling the country’s economy and the botched initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2020, thousands took to the streets demanding the resignation of the prime minister along with his cabinet, as they sought constitutional amendment.
The eight-year term limit, included in the constitution in 2017 was aimed at former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire forced out of power in 2006 following a military coup, but remains a powerful influence in politics.
His sister Yingluck Shinawatra was also forced out of power in 2014 following a coup, as Thailand’s traditional conservative ruling class, including the military, felt that her popularity posed a threat to the country’s monarchy as well as their own influence.
Additional reporting from the wires