The unusual leadership reshuffle follows a ruling by Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday, which ordered Prayuth to stand aside while it considers whether he violated the eight-year term limit recently written into the constitution.
Meanwhile, he ordered the rewriting of the state constitution and banned the prime minister from serving for more than eight years. But now the question is whether Prayut has overstepped his own limits.
Earlier this week the court accepted a petition signed by 172 opposition MPs who claimed Prayut’s rule began in 2014, when he took power in a coup. The court will also consider whether his term officially began in 2017, when the constitution was rewritten, or in 2019 after the elections.
Five of the nine Constitutional Court judges agreed on Wednesday that Prayut should be suspended while the court considers the case, but did not provide a time frame for a decision. The court gave Prayut 15 days to submit a counter-argument as to why he should retain the job after formally receiving the court papers.
Prayut’s office said in a statement that it respects the court’s decision.
The order “will not affect the governance of the nation, the work done by civil servants or the ongoing policies of the government,” the statement said.
Who is in charge now?
The court will take the final decision when Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will serve as prime minister, government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisari told reporters on Wednesday. Prawit himself is a former army chief and a longtime supporter of the Thai monarchy.
According to the constitution, new elections are due by May next year, but the incumbent prime minister has the power to dissolve the elected House of Representatives and call early elections.
Prayut has won four no-confidence votes in the past few months and looks set to hold on to power until the election, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
But critics say it’s time to move on.
“There’s been some economic mismanagement, politics is still polarized, Thailand hasn’t done well for the last eight years since he became prime minister — or since he was called prime minister,” Thitinan said.
Why is Prayut popular?
Prayuth’s rule as leader of a military coup has resulted in increasing authoritarianism and growing inequality.
Dissatisfaction with the military government and the state monarchy continued until 2021.
Since becoming king, Vajiralongkorn has transferred billions of dollars in assets held by the Thai crown, control of the royal economy and vast increases in his personal wealth, angering those who must respect the monarchy.
CNN’s Helen Regan contributed reporting.