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Court ousts prime minister

Cabinet members are also removed

Thailand’s prime minister was removed from office yesterday in an abuse-of-power court ruling that leaves a politically riven country in deeper danger of chaos and further violence.

The Constitutional Court decision marked a sudden and divisive swing in Thailand’s long-running and damaging power struggle. The ouster of Yingluck Shinawatra and part of her cabinet gashes Thailand’s executive branch at a time when the main parties have not been able to agree on elections or a way forward.

Over the past six months, Yingluck had faced numerous challenges to her rule, including street protests and a probe by an anti- corruption panel into a populist rice scheme that caused the state massive losses.

But the court decision yesterday stemmed from a more obscure case, one involving the transfer of a senior civil servant three years ago. The court said the move had a “hidden agenda,” leading to a broader reshuffle of positions that helped a Yingluck relative become police chief.

“Transferring government officials must be done in accordance with moral principle,” the court said in its ruling, which was read aloud on national television for more than an hour.

The decision handed down by Thailand’s highest court was final and immediate and removed all cabinet members who held posts at the time of the personnel decision. The remaining cabinet members quickly appointed Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan as acting prime minister.

Amid the protests in Bangkok, Yingluck had maintained her popularity in rural areas. The divide between rural and urban voters has plagued Thailand for nearly a decade, since Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s older brother and the country’s first populist leader – was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006.

Since then, a pattern has emerged in which rural voters return Thaksin-backed parties to power and courts summarily remove them. Since 2006, the Constitutional Court has twice dissolved Thaksin- supported political parties and three times toppled Thaksin-supported premiers, including Yingluck. Thaksin’s supporters, known as the red shirts, say the courts have become a partisan entity that wants to return power to Bangkok’s elites. Those who oppose Thaksin, though, say the telecom tycoon’s corruption and political meddling is undemocratic and endangering the country. Thaksin has continued to advise Yingluck from political exile in Dubai.

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