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Thai court to decide fate of suspended prime minister

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Bangkok (AFP) – A Thai court is due to rule on Friday on whether suspended Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha should be reinstated or permanently removed from office, with a verdict in his favor likely to spark protests.

The former army chief, who came to power in a military coup in 2014, was suspended last month while the court considered a legal challenge launched by opposition parties who claimed he had reached the end of his term.

Under Thailand’s 2017 constitution, a prime minister cannot hold office for more than eight years, but Prayut’s supporters and critics disagree on when his term begins.

The court ruling is expected to be delivered at 3:00 p.m. (08:00 GMT) on Friday.

His supporters argue the clock started when the 2017 constitution was signed into law — or even after the 2019 general election, in which Prayut remained in power thanks to military-drafted constitutional provisions that critics say left him. gave an advantage.

If the court agrees, he could continue to serve until 2025 or 2027 – depending on an upcoming national ballot, due to be held in a few months.

Naresuan University political scientist Napisa Waitoolkiat said she expected the decision to be in favor of Prayut.

“There’s a really very strong chance he’ll survive,” she told AFP ahead of Friday’s decision.

‘Lose face’

After Prayut was suspended in August, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan took over as acting prime minister, while Prayut continued to serve as defense minister.

The suspension was extremely damaging to Prayut, Napisa said, causing him to “lose face” in the eyes of voters.

The decision comes ahead of national elections, which are to be called by March 2023.

Prayut and his Palang Pracharat party are increasingly out of favor with voters as an underperforming Thai economy hurts households.

A survey of 2,500 people earlier this month by the National Institute of Development Administration found that just 10.5% of respondents backed Prayut, who ranked fourth among potential candidates for the job. of Prime Minister.

If the court’s decision is in his favor, the city could see protests, Napisa said.

“I think there will be street protests and demonstrations in Bangkok against the decision,” Napisa said.

At least three protest groups – which rose to prominence during the massive pro-democracy rallies in 2020 – said on Thursday they would demonstrate if Prayut won.

National police deputy spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen told AFP that officers would be deployed to provide security near the court and in Bangkok’s shopping center area, a popular location for previous protests.

Meanwhile, officials announced on Thursday night that there would be a restricted area around the pitch.