Thai leader faces court ruling that could cost him his job

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In this photo released by Government Spokesman Office, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha receives flowers from well wishers in Samut Songkhram province, Thailand, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Thailand's highest court is set to rule Wednesday, Dec. 2, on whether Prayuth has breached ethics clauses in the country's constitution and should be ousted from his position. (Government Spokesman Office via AP)

BANGKOK – Thailand’s highest court is set to rule Wednesday on whether Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has breached ethics clauses in the country’s constitution and should be ousted from his position.

The Constitutional Court will rule on a complaint brought by the Pheu Thai Party, the largest opposition grouping in Parliament, that Prayuth has broken the law by continuing to live in his military residence after he retired as army commander in September 2014.

The ruling comes as Prayuth has been dealing with another major headache, a persistent student-led pro-democracy movement that has been holding frequent well-attended rallies demanding that he and his government step down, charging that they came to power illegitimately.

As army commander, Prayuth led a coup in May 2014 that ousted an elected government led by the Pheu Thai Party. He then headed the junta that ruled for five years, and was also prime minister in the military-guided government.

A general election last year brought to power a proxy party established by the military, which with its allies selected Prayuth to serve again as prime minister. The ongoing protests charge that the 2017 constitution established under military rule gave the military’s proxy Palang Pracharath Party an unfair advantage in the election.

When Prayuth and several of his Cabinet ministers faced a censure debate in Parliament in February, opposition leader Sompong Amornwiwat of the Pheu Thai Party raised the issue of whether Prayuth had acted illegally by continuing to live at his army residence at a base in Bangkok.

The complaint, which was forwarded to the court, alleges that he broke the constitutional articles barring government ministers from receiving special benefits from state agencies or enterprises because that would amount to a conflict of interest. If a minister is found guilty of violating ethical standards, the official will be disqualified and forced to step down.

Prayuth’s defense has been that the official residence of the prime minister is undergoing renovation, and also that he faces security concerns.