Thai Court to Hear Case That Could Topple Premier Yingluck

Thailand’s Constitutional Court agreed to hear a case accusing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of violating the charter by transferring a security official, providing another potential avenue for her ouster.

Nine judges voted unanimously to accept the petition filed by a group of senators arguing that Yingluck’s decision to remove the National Security Council secretary-general from office in 2011 was an unconstitutional abuse of power. A lower court ruled last month that the transfer was unlawful.

The petitioners alleged that the move against Tawin Pleansri was “not for the national and people’s benefit, but for her own benefit and that of her relatives and the Pheu Thai party,” the court said in a statement today announcing its decision. It said Yingluck would have 15 days to prepare her defense.

The case adds to the legal woes facing Yingluck and her caretaker government, whose opponents have staged street protests and lodged complaints with courts and watchdog agencies in a bid to oust her and allow a temporary appointed government to take control. The case has the potential to remove Yingluck and all of her minsters from office, depending on how the court interprets the constitution.

Yingluck appeared before the National Anti-Corruption Commission on March 31 to defend herself against charges of dereliction of duty for her role overseeing a rice subsidy program in which the government spent 689 billion baht ($21 billion) in the past two years to boost rural incomes.

Impeachment Threat

The commission could choose to indict the premier, and recommend the Senate move to impeach her. Yingluck has criticized the NACC for not giving her enough time to gather evidence, and questioned why the case is proceeding so quickly.

The commission is investigating more than a dozen other cases against Yingluck or her party members, including one involving a bid to make the Senate fully elected and another that alleges national security was breached by allowing television stations to air a speech by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to avoid a jail term.

Thaksin and his allies have a history of tensions with the country’s legal institutions, which they accuse of bias. A military-appointed court in 2007 disbanded Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party for breaking election laws, banning him and more than 100 party executives from politics for five years.

Airport Seizure

In 2008, amid the seizure of Bangkok’s airports by anti-government protesters, the Constitutional Court found Thaksin’s allies guilty of vote buying, disbanding their party and banning a further 30 executives. The ruling came just weeks after the court ordered Thaksin ally Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to step down for hosting a cooking show, and it opened the door for the Democrats to take control of the government in a move Thaksin’s supporters have labeled a judicial coup.

The Constitutional Court ruled in November that efforts by ruling party lawmakers to return the Senate to a fully elected body were an attempt to overthrow democracy. In February a lower court stripped the government of powers provided by a state of emergency called to deal with the protests.

Last month it invalidated a February general election on the grounds that the vote didn’t take place across the country on the same day, something that wasn’t possible as protesters opposed to the election blocked voting in some areas.

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