Bangkok: Thousands of pro-government Red Shirt supporters say they are ready to descend on Bangkok if Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday rules to force prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office on an alleged abuse of power charge.
Even before the decision, Ms Yingluck’s government challenged the court’s authority to rule on the charge she abused her power by demoting the country’s national security chief in 2011.
If found guilty Ms Yingluck, Thailand’s first woman prime minister, will be forced to step down immediately with no right of appeal, enraging her supporters who say she is the victim of a “judicial coup” orchestrated by influential figures in Bangkok’s military and royalist elite.
The Red Shirts’ threat to travel to the capital where anti-government protesters have been rallying unopposed on the streets and occupying key government buildings for six months has stoked fears of violent clashes and even more chaos in the country.
Anutin Tinnaraj, chairman of the north-eastern chapter of the Red Shirt’s United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship said about 100,000 people from 20 provinces are ready come to Bangkok to protest.
He said he believes the court ruling has been orchestrated by anti-government factions seeking to install their own prime minister.
Red Shirt leaders announced they will announce venues for rallies in Bangkok after the verdict.
In a statement on the eve of the ruling, Tarit Pengdit, head of the country’s Department of Special Investigation and secretary-general of the Administration of Peace and Order, a body set-up to handle the crisis for the government, said the Constitutional Court always based its rulings on regulations it set for itself, but had failed to have the regulations supported by an act of parliament, as the constitution required.
The court could also order the removal of cabinet ministers who endorsed Ms Yingluck’s demotion of national security chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, who has been re-instated on the order of another court.
Legal analysts say if Ms Yingluck is forced to step down she could be replaced by one of her deputy prime ministers but moving against the cabinet would create a political vacuum among bitterly divided political groups.
“I didn’t do anything that is prohibited by law, and I have carried out my duty in the administration with the country’s benefit in mind,” Ms Yingluck told a hearing of the court on Tuesday.
The court refused Ms Yingluck permission to call five witnesses in the case her supporters say has been unfairly rushed.
In March, the court nullified a February general election won by Ms Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party, which had been disrupted by anti-government protesters demanding the Shinawatra family quit politics.
The country’s Election Commission has said it wants to arrange a fresh election for July 20.
The Constitutional Court has in the past generally ruled against Ms Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup who lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
The court has also removed two prime ministers who have close ties to Thaksin, a divisive figure in Thai politics.
An estimated 40,000 Reds shirt supporters rallied on Bangkok’s outskirts last month in a show of force after keeping away from the city to avoid confrontations with anti-government protesters, whose numbers have dwindled to several thousand camped out in Bangkok’s Lumpini park over recent months.
Ms Yingluck, who took office after a landslide election victory in mid-2011, faces further charges in Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission for allegedly mishandling a loss-making subsidy scheme for rice farmers.
A verdict in that case is expected within weeks.
The crisis broadly pits two groups of Thai elite against each other, one backed by Bangkok’s middle class and supporters in southern provinces, and another other backed by mostly rural supporters of the Shinawatra family.