Thai Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister Shinawatra

Thailand’s justices force the divisive prime minister to resign, setting the stage for more political unrest.

Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Berlin, Germany, July 19, 2012
Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Berlin, Germany, July 19, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons/Gerd Seidel)

Yingluck Shinawatra’s prime ministership abruptly ended on Wednesday when Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered her and several of her cabinet ministers to step down. The court ruled that it had been unconstitutional for her to replace her national-security chief three years ago.

The decision has the potential to spark more violence witnessed over the last several months as deep economic and political divisions roil Thailand resulting in paralysis in government.

During a news conference, Shinawatra thanked her supporters and denied breaking the law. She said she would remain committed to democracy, social equality and the public interest, possibly signaling an intention to remain in politics.

In 2011, Shinawatra removed her national-security chief, Thawil Pliensri, in order to give the position to her brother in law. Pliensri was a supporter of the opposition Democrat Party.

The remaining cabinet ministers nominated Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, the commerce secretary, to replace Shinawatra and announced that the July 20 elections would take place as scheduled.

The prospects for Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party remain bright. It has won six consecutive elections going back to 2001. Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has not supported holding elections in July over fear of losing again, calling for a referendum instead on proposed political changes.

The court decision was viewed as the milder of measures versus fears of the entire cabinet being removed. Only the ministers who came in three years ago and who were closely aligned with Yingluck Shinawatra were targeted. Even so, Shinawatra’s supporters, the “red shirts,” promised a mass demonstration on Saturday in Bangkok.

This is the third time the court ruled against the Shinawatra family and its party, removing the prime minister in each instance. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin, was removed in 2006 and is now living in Dubai. His economic programs, including rice subsidies, mainly benefited the poor and were continued under his sister’s leadership, despite causing great consternation among the ruling and middle classes in Thai society.

The court’s ruling is the latest in a series of political differences over the direction of the country. Most of the red shirts believe the court supports the Democrat Party. Meanwhile, the yellow shirted supporters of the royal family staunchly oppose the populist policies of the Shinawatras. Months of protests and counterprotests has resulted in gridlock.

The only institution able to hold the country together remains the monarchy but King Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned since 1946. He is currently in his eighties and said to be ailing. His successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, is believed to sympathize with the Shinawatras and would therefore be an unwelcome replacement for the opposition.

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