Thailand’s prime minister was ordered to step down on Wednesday along with part of her Cabinet after the Constitutional Court found her guilty in an abuse of power case, pushing the country deeper into political turmoil.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was charged with abusing her authority by transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position. The court ruled that the transfer was carried out to benefit her politically powerful family and, therefore, violated the constitution — an accusation she has denied.
“Transferring government officials must be done in accordance with moral principle,” the court said in its ruling, read aloud on live television for almost 90 minutes. “Transferring with a hidden agenda is not acceptable.”
“The Constitutional Court has ruled unanimously that (Yingluck) has used her status as the prime minister to intervene for her own and others’ benefits to (transfer) a government official,” which violated Article 268 of the Constitution, and ended her rule as prime minister, the court said in its verdict.
It was not immediately clear who would become the new acting prime minister. The ruling also forced out nine Cabinet embers who the court said were complicit in the transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri.
The judgment marks the latest dramatic twist in Thailand’s long-running political crisis. It was a victory for Yingluck’s opponents, mostly from the urban elite and those in the south, who for the past six months have been engaged in vociferous and sometimes violent street protests demanding she step down to make way for an interim unelected leader.
But it does little to resolve Thailand’s political crisis as it leaves the country in limbo and primed for more violence.
The ruling casts doubt on whether new elections planned for July will take place, which would anger Yingluck’s mostly rural supporters who have called for a major rally on Saturday in Bangkok. Her ouster will doubtless swell those numbers, and some fear it could lead to more violence.
Since November, more than 20 have been killed and hundreds injured in sporadic gun-battles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.
It also remains far from clear whether her opponents will be able to achieve other key demands, including creating a reform council overseen by a leader of their choice that will carry out various steps to rid the country of corruption and what they claim is money politics, including alleged vote-buying.
Yingluck, Thailand’s first female prime minister, and her Pheu Thai party swept to power in mid-2011 elections — and remain very popular among the country’s poor majority, particularly in the north and northeast. But she is despised by Bangkok’s middle and upper class.
The campaign against Yingluck, 46, has been the latest chapter in Thailand’s political upheaval that began when her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a polarizing figure who was ousted by a 2006 military coup after protests accusing him continued…