Thai court rules suspended Prime Minister Prayut can resume office

Thailand’s suspended Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha may resume office, the country’s constitutional court said on Friday, ruling that he has not exceeded his eight-year term.

The former army chief, who came to power in a military coup in 2014, was suspended last month while the court considered a legal challenge from opposition parties who claimed he had reached his term limit.

Bangkok authorities were wary of demonstrations following the verdict, as several protest groups previously announced they would take to the streets if Prayut won the case.

“The Constitutional Court has ruled by a majority that the defendant’s term of office has not yet reached the eight-year limit,” said Judge Punya Udchacon at the reading of the verdict.

“The cabinet under the prime ministerial office of the respondent will be counted from April 6, 2017.”

Under Thailand’s 2017 constitution, a prime minister cannot last more than eight years, but Prayut’s supporters and critics have been divided over when his term began.

The ruling counts Prayuth’s term from the enactment of the new army-written constitution and means he can remain in office until 2025 – subject to an upcoming national poll, which has to take place within months.

– ‘Lose the face’ –

Following Prayuth’s suspension in August, his deputy, Prawit Wongsuwan, took over as acting prime minister, while Prayuth continued as defense minister.

The suspension hurt Prayut enormously, Naresuan University political scientist Napisa Waitoolkiat said before the verdict, causing him to “lose face” in the eyes of voters.

Prayut and his Palang Pracharat party are increasingly out of favor with voters as an underperforming Thai economy hurts households.

A National Institute of Development Administration poll of 2,500 people earlier this month found that just 10.5 percent of respondents supported Prayuth, who ranked a low fourth as a potential prime ministerial candidate.

Napisa said there could be angry reactions to the verdict, which is in Prayut’s favour.

“I think there will be street protests and demonstrations in Bangkok against the verdict,” Napisa said.

At least three protest groups – which rose to prominence during the massive pro-democracy rallies of 2020 – said Thursday they would demonstrate should Prayuth win.

Deputy national police spokeswoman Kissana Phathanacharoen said AFP officers were being deployed to provide security near the court and in Bangkok’s shopping district, a popular spot for previous protests.

Meanwhile, officials announced late Thursday that there would be a restricted zone around the court.