Bangkok: Pro-democracy activists protest after the constitutional court’s ruling on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha’s conflict of interest case.—Reuters
Bangkok: Pro-democracy activists protest after the constitutional court’s ruling on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha’s conflict of interest case.—Reuters

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha survived a legal challenge on Wednesday over his living arrangements that could have seen him thrown out of office, in a court ruling that prompted anger among thousands of pro-democracy protesters.

The kingdom’s nine-judge constitutional court ruled that Prayut — already under pressure after months of street protests calling for him to quit — was not guilty of conflict of interest by living in an army residence after leaving the military.

Thousands of protesters defied a warning from the court to respect its ruling, taking to the streets to condemn the judgment as unjust.

The court ruled that Prayut’s status as prime minister entitled him to live in the military house even though he stepped down as army chief in 2014.

“The status of General Prayut Chan-O-Cha as prime minister and defence minister remains unchanged,” the head judge said.

Though widely expected, the ruling angered the protest movement that has shaken Thailand since July calling for Prayut, who came to power in a 2014 coup, to quit.

Some 5,000 protesters massed at a major intersection in northern Bangkok.

The rally included uniformed high school students wearing hair clips shaped like rubber ducks, a symbol of the pro-democracy movement.

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

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

On the eve of the decision the court warned against “vulgar” criticism of its work, but this did not deter protesters, who daubed slogans against the court and Prayut on the road.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020

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