Court forces out Thai leader and part of Cabinet

A court ousted Thailand’s prime minister on Wednesday for abuse of power, accomplishing what anti-government demonstrators have sought to do for the past six months and further widening the country’s sharp political divide.

BANGKOK, Thailand — A court ousted Thailand’s prime minister on Wednesday for abuse of power, accomplishing what anti-government demonstrators have sought to do for the past six months and further widening the country’s sharp political divide.

Supporters of deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called for a huge rally Saturday to protest the ruling by the constitutional Court, which exercised powers laid out in a constitution written by a military government after a coup in 2006.

The leader of the anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, meanwhile, told his followers that they would stage a “final offensive” on Friday and would achieve their goal of fully ousting the government.

The court found Yingluck guilty of abusing her power by transferring the National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position. It ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution — an accusation she has denied.

The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet members but left nearly two dozen others in their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was appointed the new acting leader.

Yingluck appeared on television two hours after the verdict to thank her supporters, emphasize that she was an elected leader and assert her innocence.

“We held true to the principles of honesty in running the country, and never acted corruptly, as we were accused,” said Yingluck, 46, who swept to power nearly three years ago as the country’s first female prime minister.

During the past six months, Yingluck’s supporters, the Red Shirts, have generally steered clear of provoking her opponents, who have been blocking government ministries and conducting street protests in the capital. Still, more than 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured since November in sporadic gunbattles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.

Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said Saturday’s rally will be a show of strength, but that further attempts to dislodge the government will be met with force.

“Our stance has been clear,” he said. “If an illegal prime minister steps in, we will fight. If there’s a coup, we will fight.”

Thailand’s long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after protests that accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

A military government after the coup rewrote the constitution, giving extensive powers to the courts and to agencies outside the Cabinet’s authority in an attempt to reduce executive and legislative power.

Thailand’s courts, like its military, are seen as bastions of anti-Thaksin conservatism, and have a record of hostile rulings toward Thaksin’s political machine, which is fueled by billions of dollars that he made as a telecommunications tycoon.

Analysts said Wednesday’s ruling further sullied the courts’ reputation.

“The credibility of the justice system has vaporized,” said Thongchai Winichakul, a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin. “The royalist conservatives may celebrate this judicial coup. But the world will mourn over the death of another democracy.”

The United States, a long-standing ally of Thailand, urged all sides to resolve the political tensions peacefully and democratically.

“In keeping with Thailand’s democratic ideals, a resolution should include elections and an elected government. We urge all sides to exercise restraint and reaffirm that violence is not an acceptable means of resolving political differences,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.

Yingluck is despised by Bangkok’s elite and middle class as a puppet of her brother. But she and her Pheu Thai party remain highly popular among the country’s poor majority, particularly in the north and northeast.

Her opponents have been demanding that she step down to make way for an interim unelected government that would remove her family’s influence from politics.

Thaksin’s supporters say the Thai establishment opposes him because their position of privilege has been threatened by his electoral popularity, cemented by populist programs that benefited the less well-off in the countryside.

Wednesday’s ruling casts doubts on whether new elections planned for July will be held, following polls in February that were disrupted by the protesters and then invalidated by the court.

In 2007, the constitutional Court made a landmark ruling dissolving Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai party for fraud in a 2006 election, and banned its executives from politics for five years. Thaksin went into self-imposed exile in 2008 to escape a two-year jail sentence for conflict of interest while prime minister.

Thaksin’s allies in late 2007 handily won the first post-coup election, but the constitutional Court in 2008 kicked out two successive pro-Thaksin prime ministers in rulings on controversial legal grounds.

A coalition government then cobbled together by the opposition Democrat Party had to use the army to put down pro-Thaksin demonstrations in 2010 that left more than 90 people dead in street battles, but Yingluck and her Pheu Thai party won a sweeping majority in a mid-2011 general election.

Opposition senators lodged Wednesday’s case with the constitutional Court over the transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri. He was replaced by the national police chief, who in turn was replaced by a Thaksin relative.

“Transferring government officials must be done in accordance with moral principle,” the court said in its ruling, read aloud on live television for almost 90 minutes. “Transferring with a hidden agenda is not acceptable.”

Yingluck’s fortunes plunged late last year when her party used shady legislative tactics to try to ram through a law that would have given an amnesty to political offenders of the previous eight years, including Thaksin. The move ignited mass anti-government demonstrations.

Seeking to ease the pressure, Yingluck in December dissolved the lower house and called elections for Feb. 2. But her opponents on the street disrupted the polls.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre in Red Deer has new owners. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Cambridge Hotel in Red Deer has new ownership group

‘They’re making an investment in this iconic hotel for the future,’ says general manager Gil Vallee

The new Gasoline Alley Farmers Market officially opened on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Gasoline Alley brewery a collaboration between brewers and farmers

Red Deer County’s newest brewery has been built from the ground up… Continue reading

RDA court
Mountie allegedly sexually assaulted by another officer begged a superior not to tell anyone

Female officer alleges she was assaulted at house party in 2012

The central zone experienced a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases Thursday, rising from 454 to 508 active cases over the past 24 hours, with 10 people in hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Alberta government makes request to Canadian Red Cross for field hospitals

The Alberta Government has examined the possibility of needing help from the… Continue reading

Workers were busy getting a tall crane in place Thursday morning for the construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer. The facility will include modern technology and replace the existing courthouse upon completion expected in spring 2023. Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
Work on Red Deer Justice Centre progressing

Construction of the new courthouse in downtown Red Deer was visible Thursday… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Defence lawyer Boris Bytensky, clockwise from top left, father of the accused Vahe Minassian, Justice Anne Malloy, and defendant Alek Minassian are shown during a murder trial conducted via Zoom videoconference, in this courtroom sketch on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack trial is set to testify for the fourth straight day today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Key witness for defence to testify for fourth day in van attack trial

TORONTO — The key witness for the defence in Toronto’s van attack… Continue reading

People take part in a protest called ‘Justice for Joyce’ in Montreal, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, where they demanded justice for Joyce Echaquan and an end to systemic racism. Two months after Echaquan’s death at a Joliette hospital, the head of the regional health authority that runs the hospital, Daniel Castonguay, has been removed from his post. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Head of regional health authority where Indigenous woman died removed from post

MONTREAL — Two months after the death of Joyce Echaquan in a… Continue reading

Signage for the Distress Centre in Calgary, Alta., is shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Distress Centre Calgary says suicide-related calls, texts and chats were up 66 per cent in October compared with the same month in 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Dealing with a lot:’ Suicide crisis calls mount during COVID-19 pandemic

CALGARY — Hannah Storrs has needed to take more breaks than usual… Continue reading

Nancy McInerney, Kevin Martin, Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka, Chelsea Carey and MLA Nathan Cooper pose for a photo during the ticket launch for the Grand Slam of Curling Champions Cup in Olds from April 29 to May 3 in October. The event has been rescheduled for 2022. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Olds misses out on Champions Cup again, event penciled in to return in 2022

They say waiting is the hardest part for curling fans in central… Continue reading

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury out four to six weeks with back injury

MONTREAL — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first… Continue reading

Detail of James Wilson Morrice's "LaPlage."
James Wilson Morrice canvas outperforms at auction with more than million-dollar sale

A canvas by Montreal-born artist James Wilson Morrice exceeded expectations with a… Continue reading

Most Read