A Thai court has ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down over abuse of power charges.
The Constitutional Court ruled that Ms. Yingluck acted illegally when she transferred her national security head. The binding decision also orders nine cabinet ministers involved in the transfer to step down. The ruling follows months of political deadlock. Anti-government protesters have been trying to oust Ms. Yingluck since November 2013. The move is likely to trigger protests by supporters of the government, which remains very popular in rural areas.
Ms. Yingluck had been accused of improperly transferring Thawil Pliensri, her national security chief appointed by the opposition-led administration, in 2011. Appearing in court on Tuesday, she had rejected the suggestion that her party had benefited from the move. But the court ruled against her, saying a relative had gained from the move. “The prime minister’s status has ended, Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister,” a judge said in a statement.
It was not clear how the next prime minister would be chosen, given the country currently does not have a functioning parliament. An adviser to the prime minister, Nopaddon Pattama, said the court’s decision was binding. “She really has no choice but to be bound by the decision because the constitution says the judgement of the court is binding on all parties, although we are going to make a political protest.” He said remaining cabinet members would “continue performing their duties until the new cabinet has been formed.”
Anti-government protests began in the Thai capital late last year, with demonstrators blockading several parts of the city. In response, Ms. Yingluck called a snap general election in February that her party was widely expected to win. But the protesters disrupted the polls and the election was later annulled. Ms. Yingluck’s supporters believe that the courts are biased against her and side with the urban elite at the heart of the protest movement.
Thailand has faced a power struggle since Ms. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by the military as prime minister in a 2006 coup. Mr. Thaksin and his family are hated by an urban and middle-class elite who accuse them of corruption and abuse of power.
But Mr. Thaksin’s policies won him huge support in rural areas, and both the elections since the coup have returned Thaksin-allied governments to power.