Thailand: Suspended PM to continue as defence minister

·2-min read

Thailand prime minister who was suspended by the top court has said he will now lead as the defence minister of the country in his first direct address to the public since his removal.

The country’s constitutional court on Wednesday suspended Prayuth Chan-ocha from official duties after accepting a plea to review charges that he overstayed the eight-year legally mandated tenure.

“I will continue to do my duty and responsibility as defence minister for the people and Thailand every day,” Mr Prayuth announced on the Twitter account of the prime minister’s office on Thursday.

Mr Prayuth, an ex-army chief, seized power through a 2014 military coup and in 2019, he became a civilian prime minister following a heavy restricted election held under a 2017 military-drafted constitution.

The constitution of Thailand stipulates a term limit of eight years for the prime minister.

Opposition parties had filed a case arguing that the prime minister had overstayed his tenure since taking the power in a military coup.

It remains unclear when the court will deliver a decision on the review.

The apex court said it “has considered the petition and related documents and sees that the facts from the petition are cause for questioning as demanded”.

A panel of judges ruled five to four in favour of his suspension starting Wednesday, the order stated, adding that Mr Prayuth now has 15 days to respond.

File Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha gestures as he arrives for a photo opportunity with members of the new Thai cabinet at Government in 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)
File Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha gestures as he arrives for a photo opportunity with members of the new Thai cabinet at Government in 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan took over as acting premier of Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.

Mr Wongsuwan declined to answer media’s questions on his first day in the prime minister’s office on Friday.

The political turmoil over Mr Prayuth ruling exceeding the legal tenure limit was the latest in nearly two decades history of intermittent political unrest in the country which has seen two coups and violents protests.

Pro-democracy activists the the southeast Asian country had been demanded Mr Prayuth’s resignation, arguing that the 2019 election was not legitimate.

Hundreds of thousands of people hit to the streets in 2020, staging protests against the government, while calling for the constitution to be amended and the monarchy to be reformed.

In the anti-goverment protests, people executed three-finger salute - a gesture of rebellion inspired by The Hunger Games movies - became a common sight on the streets of Bangkok, even as the government has declared a state of emergency to ban people from gathering.

On Wednesday, nearly 100 pro-democracy protesters at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument welcomed the court’s order but added that it was not enough.