In August 2022, opposition groups thought they had finally uncovered a tool to remove prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha before the 2023 election: a forgotten 8-year term limit. This dispute resulted in the suspension of Mr Prayuth as the verdict was deliberated by the court. After weeks of anticipation, Thailand has an answer: the Thai Constitutional Court has ruled that Mr Prayuth’s term began in 2017, meaning he can potentially serve as prime minister until 2025. Both sides were disappointed by the end result; Mr Prayuth can run but will be unable to serve for a full four-year term, while pro-democracy parties have the unenviable task of unseating an established incumbent with ties to the military, the judiciary and the King.
The Thai leader has had limited success since being appointed by the military in 2014. Despite winning his first and only election, Mr Prayuth commands minimal public support and relies instead upon his connections to the military and the judiciary to secure his position. In fact, widespread and violent protests took place in Thailand following his 2019 election victory. Mr Prayuth has overseen constitutional reforms that have entrenched military representation in the executive and encouraged the judiciary to increasingly side with both the government and the monarchy. In particular, pro-democracy groups have been targeted with politically motivated charges that have limited their ability to operate publicly.
Protests against the court’s decision have already begun, but more severe unrest is expected to take place in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the election. Opposition groups contend that the political system is unfairly structured in favour of Mr Prayuth and the military, while the military are unlikely to loosen their grip on power and may seize control once again in the event of an unfavourable outcome. Whoever ends up in office, Thailand is likely to see worse violence than was observed in 2020 and 2021.