Constitutional Court Suspends Prayut, Prawit Takes Over As Acting PM

The Constitutional Court has voted to suspend General Prayut Chan-o-cha from his duties as Prime Minister while the term limit is determined.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has taken over as acting prime minister in the meantime, a government spokesman announced Wednesday.

The order was issued after the court ruled it would accept the opposition’s request to limit General Prayut’s term as prime minister to just eight years, as required by the Thai constitution. It takes effect immediately.

In recent weeks, opposition politicians and General Prayut’s supporters have been embroiled in a debate over when his term began and should end. Critics have argued that the count should start since he took office as prime minister after the 2014 military coup and must end this week.

However, his coalition’s officials and supporters claim that his first day in office should be counted from June 9, 2019, after the current constitution came into force. Under these terms, he could continue to serve as prime minister until 2027 if he wins the next race.

The Constitutional Court voted 5-4 to suspend General Prayut from office after nine judges unanimously agreed that they would accept the opposition’s petition for consideration.

The panel ordered the prime minister to challenge the petition in court within 15 days of receiving official notice as the person named in the petition.

However, the decision to suspend him from his duties resulted from a vote weighted against him, the court said, without giving details on when it would rule on his eight-year term.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon would take over as acting Prime Minister if General Prayut had to suspend his duties.

However, Mr. Wissanu stated that General Prayut could continue to attend cabinet meetings as the first defense minister.

After the announcement, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said that General Pawit would remain as caretaker until the Constitutional Court makes its ruling on General Prayut’s mandate.

An order from the Prime Minister’s Office signed by General Prayut two years ago describes General Prawit as the highest in the hierarchy among the six deputy prime ministers.

Mr. Anucha also commented on behalf of General Prayut, saying that he “hopes that people will respect the decision of the court and avoid making criticism of the performance of the court.”

In a related development, protesters again gathered outside the parliament buildings in Bangkok to demand his resignation and push for new elections.

The next elections are expected to be held before May 2023.