|Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok. (AFP)
Bangkok, May 7: A Thai court today ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra removed from office, a highly divisive move and a victory for the powerful anti-government movement that has sought to overthrow the government in Bangkok for the last six months.
The Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck abused her power when she transferred a civil servant to another post more than three years ago. The court ordered her to step down immediately along with all members of her cabinet who were in office at the time of the transfer.
Yingluck’s party called the decision a “new form of coup d’état”.
Leaders of Yingluck’s party quickly announced that a deputy Prime Minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, would become acting Prime Minister.
It was the third time since 2006 that a Prime Minister representing the political movement founded by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, has been removed by court order. The movement, which has its power base in the provinces, has won every election since 2001 but has antagonised the Bangkok establishment, a struggle that is at the heart of Thailand’s eight years of political crisis.
Thailand for decades was considered an island of pluralism, freedom and strong economic growth — especially in contrast with its neighbours — but its economy has suffered during the recent turmoil, and leaders on both sides of the country’s political divide have warned of civil war.
The court’s decision, which highlights its overtly political role, was the coup de grâce in a six-month campaign to remove Yingluck from power. It throws into question elections announced for July 20, which the governing party were expected to win because of its strong support in the northern provinces.
Bhokin Bhalakula, a member of the governing party, Phue Thai, told reporters at the party’s headquarters that the court decision was part of a “new form of coup d’état in order to establish a new regime and destroy the hope of the people who want to see the country progress democratically and with rule of law”.
Niwattumrong, the commerce minister who was named acting Prime Minister, is a former executive in Thaksin’s corporate empire. His appointment is likely to exacerbate tensions with the anti-government movement, which wants to eradicate Thaksin’s influence from the country.
Verapat Pariyawong, a lawyer and prominent commentator, said the court’s removal of Yingluck raised the prospect of more violence in the country. At least 20 people have been killed in political violence since the governing party set off protests by trying to ram through a political amnesty for Thaksin.
The anti-government movement, which is armed, continues to block access to the Prime Minister’s office and a number of other government facilities in Bangkok. Pro-government “red shirts”, who in the past have also been allied with shadowy armed groups, are planning a show of force on the outskirts of Bangkok on Saturday.
Highlighting concerns about violence, the Thai news media reported today that for security reasons, the judges would not return to work until May 13.
Violence “would pave ways for military intervention”, Verapat said. “The question is therefore, Will the current government without Yingluck be able to hold it together?”
Yingluck was the country’s first female Prime Minister but was loathed by the Opposition and was called a proxy for Thaksin, who lives in self-exile after a 2006 military coup and a subsequent conviction for abuse of power. “I am so sorry that I no longer have the opportunity to serve the people,” Yingluck said on national TV after the court decision.