By Thanyarat Doksone
BANGKOK (AP) – A court ousted Thailand’s prime minister on May 7 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.
Deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s supporters called a massive rally for May 10 on Bangkok’s outskirts to protest the ruling.
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 Constitutional 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 gun battles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.
Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said Saturday’s rally would 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 the Shinawatra political machine, which is fueled by billions of dollars that Thaksin made as a telecommunications tycoon.
Analysts said the May 7 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.”
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 the Shinawatras’ 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.
Yingluck’s ouster 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. (end)
Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.