11 July 2024

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has faced a total of five Constitutional Court cases that threatened to unseat him since taking power after the March 2019 general election

General Prayut has managed to survive all five cases — mostly by unanimous decision of the court’s nine judges. However, the most recent case differed, with judges issuing a split vote for a 6:3 ruling in his favor.

First case on status

The first case against Prayut came as early as June 2019, shortly after both Houses of Parliament selected him as prime minister.

A total of 110 opposition MPs from seven political parties petitioned the Constitutional Court to rule whether Prayut was prohibited from holding a Cabinet position under the charter.

The petitioners claimed Prayut’s status as prime minister was illegitimate because he was serving as head of the junta National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) at the time of his appointment. The Constitution bars “other officials of state” from becoming Cabinet members.

In September 2019, the court ruled that the post of NCPO chief did not qualify as a state official, clearing the way for Prayut to stay on as head of government. 

Charter Court clarifies PM’s status as junta leader

Second case on oath-taking

The second case came in August 2019, just a month after the PM and his Cabinet were sworn in before His Majesty the King in mid-July.

Ramkhamhaeng University student Panupong Churak lodged a petition through the Ombudsman claiming that Prayut had not recited his oath in full at his swearing-in ceremony. The petition claimed the incomplete oath invalidated the Cabinet’s formation and policy statement.

Prayut had failed to recite the final part of the compulsory oath: “I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect.” Opposition politicians and political activists duly questioned the validity of his premiership.

The court in September 2019 rejected the petition on grounds that it was “not in its authority” to make a ruling on the oath-taking ceremony, which it said reflects a “specific relationship” between the Cabinet and the King and is considered a political issue under an act of government.

PM offers an apology to his cabinet for his oath-taking blunder

Army residence case

In November 2020, MP Prasert Chantararuangthong, as secretary-general of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, filed a petition for a ruling on whether Prayut had violated the Constitution by staying on in his rent-free Army residence despite having left the military.

Prasert cited Articles 184 and 186 of the Constitution, which prohibit ministers from receiving any special benefit from a government agency.

The court in December 2020 ruled that Prayut had not broken the supreme law and his military residence was permitted under a 2005 Royal Thai Army regulation that allows Army chiefs to stay on base after they retire.

Charter Court finds Prayut not guilty of ethics breaches

Green Line interference case

Following the censure debate in February 2021, 72 opposition MPs petitioned the court to rule whether Gen Prayut had violated the charter by issuing an executive order to extend the concession to operate the Green Line Skytrain to 40 years, although the existing concessionaire BTS had only 10 years left. Prayut issued the order in April 2019 while serving as NCPO junta chief.

The accusers asked the court to remove the prime minister from office for “interfering or intervening in the acquisition of a concession from the state”, which is banned under the Constitution.

In July 2021, the court dismissed the petition, ruling that constitutional provisions on the termination of ministerial status only cover current officeholders. Prayut was not subject to disqualification from office because he vacated his prime minister’s seat ahead of the 2019 general election, the court ruled.

Green Line train contracts between BTS and Krungthep Thanakom to be disclosed

Eight-year tenure case

In the latest case against Prayut, Constitutional Court judges ruled by a 6:3 majority on September 30 that his eight-year term in office had not expired on August 24.

The court ruled that Prayut’s tenure began on April 6, 2017, when the current Constitution was promulgated. His previous premiership did not apply under this charter, it said.

The opposition had petitioned the court on August 24, asking if Prayut had completed his eight-year tenure. The petition argued that he had served as PM since August 24, 2014, following the military coup he led three months earlier.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

Prayut given political lifeline — but what’s next?