Thailand’s Constitutional Court said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha residing in army housing after he had already retired from the armed forces was not a conflict of interest.
Prayut will continue in his role as premier.
Anti-government protests against Prayut have raged throughout the country for the past five months.
The student-led demonstrations aimed at toppling the Prayut government accuse the administration of subverting democratic rule and for continued military interference in governance.
After the verdict on Wednesday, student protest groups said that they would continue to fight for democracy and asked people to attend an anti-government rally in downtown Bangkok.
Many student leaders said that they were not shocked by the verdict and that under this government and this constitution, “Prayut can do no wrong.”
ด่วน! ตลก. #ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญ วินิฉัย ประยุทธ์อยู่ต่อ! ไม่พ้นตำแหน่งนายก อยู่บ้านพักหลวง(กองทัพบก)แม้พ้นจากการเป็นผบ.ทบ.แล้ว ไม่ผิด!— FreeYOUTH (@FreeYOUTHth) December 2, 2020
การต่อสู้ในครั้งนี้ยังไม่จบ ในเมื่อทำอะไรก็ไม่ผิด ประเทศนี้ก็กำลังจะเดินไปสู่จุดแตกหัก!
One of the main protest groups, Free Youth, said that if Prayut can do no wrong in this country then the country was truly headed towards a breaking point.
Other protest leaders also expressed disappointment at the verdict.
ส้นตีน !🦶🏻— Mike-Panupong (@mike_rayong) December 2, 2020
หน้าส้นตีน!— Panusaya S. (@PanusayaS) December 2, 2020
คณะตลก.ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญวินิจฉัยประยุทธ์ไม่ผิดกรณีพักบ้านกองทัพบก#ม็อบ2ธันวา— FordTattep (@fordtattepRuang) December 2, 2020
Prayut, a military general, along with current Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan and General Anupong Paochinda took power in a military coup in 2014 which toppled the democratically elected goverment of Yingluck Shinawatra.
The coup leaders ruled with an iron first for five years with the coup-government using legal measures to prosecute and outlaw dissent. The coup leaders also drafted their own constitution which allows the military to handpick every member of the upper house and allows the upper house to take part in selecting the prime minister.
The protesters say that the constitution is undemocratic for these reasons.
The protests have also at times called for a reformation of the country’s once-cherished monarchy. While the protest leaders say they do not want to topple the monarchy, they argue that institution must reform to be more in line with modern liberal democracies and not be used as an excuse to take power by military generals like Prayut.
Prayut, the military-backed Palang Pracharat Party, and the military-appointed senate have all balked at the idea of reforming the royal institution which they insist is above politics and must not be touched.
Prayut and Prawit have positioned themselves in recent weeks as ardent defenders of the crown and that their continued rule is necessary to keep the monarchy cherished and revered.
Wednesday’s ruling was seen by some analysts as a potential way out of the current political impasse but with the court ruling in favour of Prayut, it is likely that protests will be stepped up in the coming weeks.
Court says ruling is above criticism
The court released a statement on Tuesday saying that any vulgar or unethical appraisal of its ruling is illegal under the current constitution and could be open to prosecution.
In the statement, the court said that any expression of opinion over the court ruling that was ‘unethical’ or ‘vulgar’ was illegal and infringing on the court’s authority and could lead to prosecution on charges of defamation or contempt of court.