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Thai crisis enters new phase as Yingluck is ousted

Publication Date : 08-05-2014

 

Thailand's protracted political crisis looks set to deepen after its constitutional court deposed caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra and nine other ministers for abuse of power.

Hours after yesterday's mid-day verdict, the remaining 25 members of the Cabinet dug in their heels against opponents trying to force it to concede power to an appointed administration by naming a new acting prime minister.

Yingluck's deputy, Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, 66, will now assume her post.

Anti-government protesters, emboldened by the court ruling, brought forward their plan for a major rally next week to tomorrow (May 9).

Pro-government "red shirt" supporters will mass on Bangkok's outskirts on Saturday in anticipation of further legal challenges for the caretaker Puea Thai government, which stands to be taken to task over a controversial state rice purchase scheme. Their presence will raise the chances of confrontation with anti-government protesters still encamped in the capital.

The eviction of Yingluck, 46, and some of her Cabinet comes after more than six months of unrest as protesters blockaded Bangkok's streets, sabotaged the February 2 election and physically stopped voters from casting their ballots to prevent the re-election of Yingluck's Puea Thai party.

The poll was eventually annulled by the Constitutional Court and it is unclear whether the second election slated for July 20 will go ahead as planned.

Yingluck, Thailand's first female prime minister, was calm yesterday and almost cheerful as she said farewell to supporters.

"I am very honoured to have performed my duty as a prime minister who came from an election," she said. "From now on, whatever position I am in, I pledge that I will stand with the Thai people always."

The court ruling comes in the midst of an eight-year struggle pitting the country's royalist establishment, old money and urban middle class against supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, who helmed Thailand until he was ousted in 2006, and who lives abroad to evade jail for corruption.

The case yesterday centred on the unlawful transfer of then National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, which the court deemed was designed to benefit Puea Thai and Yingluck's brother-in-law.

Nine Cabinet members - who were also held responsible - were ordered removed from office. They include Finance Minister Kittiratt Na Ranong, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

But 25 Cabinet members remain, including Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang and Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt.

Thailand's SET index stayed largely flat yesterday, dipping 0.1 per cent, amid relief that the charter court had not taken the most extreme option of removing Yingluck's entire Cabinet.

Her removal was an almost foregone conclusion, given the Thai courts' record of hostility towards Thaksin-linked groups.

 

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