The Constitutional Court has accepted a petition asking it to rule whether Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s time in office is up due to the 8-year maximum term limit for a Prime Minister imposed by the 2017 Constitution, and suspended him from office until a ruling is made.
Gen Prawit Wongsuwan (left) and Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha (Right).
According to a press release issued by the Constitutional Court, it voted today (24 August) to accept a petition submitted by House Speaker Chuan Leekpai asking the Court to rule whether Gen Prayut’s term in office is up, as he has now been Prime Minister for 8 years, the maximum term limit for a Prime Minister according to the Constitution.
The petition was submitted to Chuan by 172 opposition MPs requesting a Constitutional Court ruling on the matter and to suspend Gen Prayut until a ruling is made. The House Speaker subsequently passed the petition to the Constitutional Court.
The petition raised 6 points as follows:
- Gen Prayut officially took the PM post on 24 August 2014 in line with Section 19 of the 2014 Interim Constitution. Sections 263 and 264 of the 2017 Constitution subsequently state that the PM and cabinet in office when the new constitution was promulgated could remain in office until a new government was formed.
- Sections 170, 158, and 264 limit the duration for an individual to hold the position of PM to 8 years in total. Having taken office on 24 August 2014, Gen Prayut will have served a total of 8 years on 24 August 2022.
- In May of 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai’s tenure in office should be counted from 23 August 2015, when he first assumed his position. A separate July 2019 ruling also stated that the terms of the 2017 Constitution applied to ministers who were in office prior to its promulgation. Court rulings 3-5/2550 and 24/2564 also affirmed that constitutional provisions can be retroactively applied so long as they do not involve criminal punishment.
- The intent of the 2017 Constitution’s 8 year term limit was to preclude long tenures in office that might result in political crises as “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
- Gen Prayut has submitted his declaration of assets and debts to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) twice, for two four-year periods, during his tenure as PM.
- Gen Prayut has been issuing orders and decrees as PM from 24 August 2014 until the present.
The Court voted 5 to 4 to suspend Gen Prayut from today (24 August) until a ruling is made. The Reporters reported that the 5 judges who voted to suspend Gen Prayut are Nakharin Mektrairat, Twekiat Menakanist, Chiranit Havanond, Wiroon Sangtian, and Noppadon Theppitak, while the 4 judges who voted not to suspend him are court president Worawit Kangsasitiam, Udom Sitthiwirattham, Bunjongsak Wongprachaya, and Punya Udchachon.
Anucha Burapachaisri, Deputy Secretary-General on Political Affairs to the Prime Minister, said following the Court’s decision that Gen Prayut respects the decision to suspend him and will step back from Prime Ministerial duties until a ruling is made, but will continue working normally as Minister of Defense. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan will be acting as Prime Minister while Gen Prayut is suspended.
Opposition leader and Pheu Thai MP Dr. Chonlanan Srikaew held a press conference following the Court’s decision. He praised the Court’s decision to suspend Gen Prayut and said that the suspension shows that the Court accepts the questions raised by the opposition. He noted that, as far as opposition parties are concerned, Gen Prayut’s term in office ended on 24 August 2022, and so they consider him no longer Prime Minister, and said that Gen Prayut should resign so that a new Prime Minister can be elected and a new cabinet appointed, which would also lessen the burden on the Court.
Move Forward Party leader and MP Pita Limjaroenrat also held a press conference saying that the Move Forward Party is concerned that Gen Prayut’s suspension will lead to an administrative vacuum, which will mean that several issues facing the country remain unsolved. The party therefore demanded that the Constitutional Court rule on the matter quickly so that parliament can move forward to electing a new Prime Minister. He also noted that returning power to the people by dissolving parliament is also possible.
Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome also said that he does not believe that Gen Prawit will be a better Prime Minister than Gen Prayut, since both played a role in bringing the country to this point. He said that the country must call on the Constitutional Court to issue a ruling, and if it rules that Gen Prayut’s term is over, parliament must elect a new Prime Minister.
“If we elect a new Prime Minister, what we have to do next is to leave it to the new Prime Minister take steps to return power to the people and hold an election, and not to stay in office for the full term, which is not what Thai society wants,” Rangsiman said.