Prime Minister Chan-o-cha could remain at helm through 2025 . . .
Last Friday, Thailand’s constitutional court ruled that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has not exceeded his term limit, allowing him to remain in office for up to three more years. The decision has been under review since August when opposition lawmakers brought the issue of the prime minister’s term limit to light. Chan-o-cha was suspended during the court processes but will now be able to resume his regular duties. Had the nine-member court decided that the prime minister had reached his term limit, a temporary government with limited powers would have taken over his duties until the election of a new prime minister.
In power, for now . . .
According to Thailand’s Constitution, no prime minister can remain in power for more than eight years. Having taken power in an August 2014 military coup, in August, Chan-o-cha reached this eight-year limit. However, his supporters claim that because the constitution did not take effect until April 2017, the term limit does not apply retroactively before this date. This means that Chan-o-cha could remain in office until 2025, but he will first have to win the upcoming 2023 national election. This will likely be a challenge given his low popularity, partly due to his initial handling of the COVID-19 crisis and growing inflation.
Backlash over court decision . . .
Chan-o-cha’s rule has been fraught with controversy, from his role in the 2014 military coup to his official election as prime minister in 2019, which was criticized for being only partially free and fair. Mass protests erupted in early 2020 when the court dissolved the Future Forward Party (FFP), which promoted issues supported by young and progressive citizens. Other underlying issues, including a corrupt monarchy and weak democracy, have also ignited widespread public outrage. The protests eventually subsided after several arrests, but some activists threatened a new slew of protests if the courts did not rule against Chan-o-cha. The verdict has revived anger online and given new vigour to protest groups, though it is uncertain whether protests will reach 2020 levels given the ruling party’s demonstrated propensity for arrests.