The Thai Constitutional Court’s ruling on the suspension of General Prayut Chan-O’Cha as the Prime Minister on Wednesday was an unexpected turn of events for Thai politics as Prime Minister Prayut seemingly has unshaken power as the country leader and, moreover, the judges in the quorum were appointed by the Prime Minister himself.
The decision was put into immediate effect. Speaking later through the Government spokesperson, Prayut acknowledged the court’s decision and is willing to step down as the country’s Prime Minister. Despite that, he still holds a political position as the Defense Minister which allows him to attend cabinet and ministry meetings.
According to the law, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will be serving as the Acting Prime Minister until the court’s ruling on Prayut’s eight-year ministry term controversy is made. The exact time for the adjudication is debatable, it could take about one week, one month, or as long as two months.
After retiring as Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army, General Prawit Wongsuwan first stepped into Thai politics on December 20th, 2008, as the Minister of Defense in the government of Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
He was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and Deputy of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – the military junta that ruled Thailand between its 2014 Thai coup against the Yingluck Shinawatra government on May 22nd, 2014, and July 10th, 2019 – while General Prayut Chan-O’Cha was the Prime Minister and the leader of the military junta group.
Prawit was probably first recognized in the international media for his ‘watches’ controversy back in December 2017 after he was caught wearing a 3.6-million-baht watch while taking group photos with the cabinet ministers at the Government House.
He told the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) during the investigation of his false assets declaration allegations in 2014 that he had borrowed 21 luxurious watches from his close friend, who passed away after lending him watches, and had returned them all to his family.
The NACC later ruled that Prawit had no intention of making such false declaration, acquitting him of his corruption accusations and remaining as the Deputy Prime Minister.
Although Prayut was ordered to leave his position as demanded by pro-democracy supporters and protesters, things cannot be settled just yet as long as the verdict from the Constitutional Court is finalized. The question is how will the Court justify the exact date of Prayut’s eight-year ministry end term?
If the Court adjudicated that the end term was in 2022 (the day he was appointed by the late King Rama IX during the coup), it means that Prayut was ousted for good and Prawit would remain in his position as the Acting Prime Minister until the next election.
If the Court ruled that the end term was in 2025 or 2027 (based on the new amended Constitution implemented after he became the junta PM or when he was elected Prime Minister in 2019), then Prayut would return as the Prime Minister and stay in the position until the next election.
Elections could be as early as March 2023 although are not yet final.
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