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Thai court suspends PM Prayuth pending ruling on term limit

It was not immediately announced who would assume his duties as acting prime minister

Thai court suspends PM Prayuth pending ruling on term limit

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha must suspend his active duties while the court decides whether he has overstayed his legal term in office.

It was not immediately announced who would assume his duties as acting prime minister. Under law, it would be Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is ranked first among several deputies.

He is a close political ally of Prayuth and part of the same military clique that that staged the 2014 coup that initially brought him to power.

The court agreed unanimously there is reason to consider a petition from opposition lawmakers arguing he has exceeded his term limit and should step down. By a vote of 5 to 4, the court agreed to suspend Prayuth from his duties effective Wednesday until it reached a decision.

The court's decision was announced in a statement after the news was leaked to Thai media.

The statement did not mention if Prayuth can retain his concurrent post of defense minister.

The court's announcement said Prayuth must submit his defense within 15 days of receiving a copy of the complaint.

The court did not say when it would rule on whether Prayuth has breached the clause in the constitution on the eight-year limit as prime minister. If it rules that he did, he would lose his post right away.

Prayuth led a military coup that ousted an elected government in May 2014.

His critics contend the eight years expired Tuesday, the day before the anniversary of Prayuth officially becoming prime minister in the military government installed after the coup.

Prayuth's supporters contend his term in office started later.

They say his time should be counted from when the current constitution, which contains the provision limiting prime ministers to eight years, came into effect on April 6, 2017.

Another interpretation favoring his continuing tenure starts counting from June 9, 2019, when Prayuth took office under the new constitution following a 2019 general election.

His replacement by Prawit would likewise not mollify critics.

Prawit, 77, heads the ruling Palang Pracharath party, which was formed as a proxy for the army's interests in the 2019 election.

He was tainted by a scandal involving a collection of luxury watches that he could not afford on a military or government salary.

However, the state anti-corruption body largely seen as being sympathetic to the government ruled in 2018 that his defense that the watches were borrowed was true, so he had not violated the law by failing to declare them as assets.

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