Thai PM wins crucial legal battle amid renewed protests

Top Thai court rules in favour of Prayuth Chan-ocha in conflict-of-interest case over living arrangement.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prayuth Chan-ocha had said he would respect the court's decision even if it ruled against him [Bloomberg]

Thailand’s constitutional court has unanimously ruled in favour of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in a conflict-of-interest case brought by opposition politicians that could have resulted in his removal from office if found guilty.

Prayuth has remained in military housing despite his retirement from the army in 2014, months after overthrowing an elected government, saying he needed to stay there for security reasons.

On Wednesday, the court said the former army chief’s stay in the residence was in line with the army’s rules, and that the safety of the prime minister and his family was the government’s priority.

“The plaintiff did not commit acts that constituted conflicts of interest. He did not seek personal gains, whether directly or indirectly, nor breach ethics,” a judge said. “His ministerial post therefore does not end according to the constitution.”

Pheu Thai, the main opposition party, brought the legal challenge and, if it had succeeded, would have forced Prayuth and his cabinet out of office.

The “not guilty” verdict means that Prayuth can stay in power.

The court’s decision comes with tension high after months of protests to demand Prayuth’s removal – a call he has rejected.

As the judgment was read out, pro-democracy protesters massed for a fresh rally at a major intersection in northern Bangkok.

“I’m not surprised because I think the court received the directive from the top and the court is not fair,” Reeda, 26, a graduate student, told AFP news agency as demonstrators gathered at Lat Phrao intersection.

“In the past, they always decide decisions that contrasts with the feeling of the people.”

Protest group Free Youth said in a statement on Wednesday: “The fight is not over. When he can do no wrong, this country is headed to a breaking point.”

Protesters and critics accuse Prayuth of engineering elections last year to keep hold of power. He has said the vote was fair.

A protest movement that began in July to seek Prayuth’s removal and to call for a new constitution has also broken taboos by demanding reforms to the monarchy to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The pro-democracy movement is facing legal action of its own, with five key leaders charged on Monday under Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws, which have not been used in two years.

Source: News Agencies