Yingluck Shinawatra gives a traditional greeting as she
addresses reporters in Bangkok. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
A Thai court has ordered Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra to step down after finding her guilty of abuse of
power, prolonging a political crisis that has led to violent
protests and brought the economy close to recession.
The decision is bound to anger supporters of Yingluck, but
the court did allow ministers not implicated in the case
against her to stay in office, a decision that could take
some of the sting out of any backlash on the streets.
After the ruling, the cabinet said Commerce Minister
Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, who is also a deputy prime
minister, would replace Yingluck, and the caretaker
government would press ahead with plans for a July 20
"The caretaker government's responsibility now is to organise
an election as soon as possible," said Niwatthamrong, a
former executive in a company owned by Thaksin Shinawatra,
Yingluck's brother and himself a former prime minister who
was ousted by the military in 2006.
"I hope the political situation will not heat up after this,"
Niwatthamrong said of the court ruling.
Thailand's protracted political crisis broadly pits Bangkok's
middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly
poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who lives in
exile to avoid a 2008 jail sentence for abuse of power.
Yingluck, who faced six months of sometimes deadly protests
in the capital, Bangkok, aimed at toppling her government and
ending the considerable political influence of her brother,
thanked the Thai people in a televised news conference.
"Throughout my time as prime minister I have given my all to
my work for the benefit of my countrymen ... I have never
committed any unlawful acts as I have been accused of doing,"
Yingluck said, smiling and outwardly upbeat.
"From now on, no matter what situation I am in, I will walk
on the path of democracy. I am sad that I will not be able to
serve you after this."
Despite her removal from power, there is no obvious end in
sight to the turmoil in Thailand, with protesters opposed to
Yingluck and her government still pushing for political
reforms before new elections.
The United States, a close ally of Thailand, urged a peaceful
and democratic solution to the crisis, saying this "should
include elections and an elected government."
"We urge all sides at this time to exercise restraint and
reaffirm that violence is not an acceptable means of
resolving political differences," State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing in
The judge who delivered the verdict at the Constitutional
Court said Yingluck had abused her position by transferring a
security chief to another post in 2011 so that a relative
could benefit from subsequent job moves.
The court ruled that nine ministers linked to the case should
step down, but others could remain, leaving Yingluck's ruling
party in charge of a caretaker government.
Yingluck, a businesswoman until entering politics to lead her
party to victory in a 2011 election, was not in court on
Wednesday. Thaksin, based in Dubai, was unavailable for
Financial markets took the ruling in their stride. The stock
market had fallen as much as 1.1 percent in early trade as
investors worried about unrest if Yingluck's whole cabinet
had been forced out, but the index ended down just 0.1
percent. The baht currency was barely changed at 32.37 per
PROTESTS WILL GO ON
Yingluck's supporters accuse the Constitutional Court of bias
in ruling against governments loyal to Thaksin. In 2008, the
court forced two prime ministers linked to Thaksin from
"We were bracing ourselves for this verdict. Everything our
enemies do is to cripple the democratic process," said
Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of pro-Shinawatra "red shirt"
activists. "The court chose a middle way today."
Asked about a vow to resist Yingluck's removal that had
raised fears of violence, Jatuporn replied: "There is no
reason why we should take up arms. We will rally peacefully
as planned on May 10."
In Thailand, the prime minister is normally elected by the
lower house of parliament, but that was dissolved in December
when Yingluck called a snap election to try to defuse
From that point, she headed a caretaker administration with
limited powers. The election in February was disrupted and
later declared void by the Constitutional Court.
Yingluck and the Election Commission agreed last week a new
ballot should be held on July 20, but the date has not been
formally approved and it is bound to be opposed by
Thaksin or his loyalists have won every election since 2001
and would probably win again.
The former telecoms tycoon won huge support in rural areas
and among the urban poor with populist policies such as cheap
healthcare and loans. But his enemies say he is a corrupt
crony capitalist who buys elections and harbours republican
sympathies, which he denies.
The anti-government protesters say they want to end Thaksin's
hold over politics and are demanding reform of the electoral
system before new polls.
The main leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, later
told supporters to prepare for a big rally on Friday. "We can
no longer let this illegitimate party rule this country," he
Ongoing turmoil would make matters worse for Southeast Asia's
second-largest economy, already suffering from weak exports,
a year-long slump in industrial output, a drop in tourism and
a caretaker government with curtailed powers.
The army, which has staged numerous coups since the end of
absolute monarchy in 1932, has stayed out of the turmoil, as
has King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king, who is 86, has
intervened to defuse previous crises, but has not commented
since this one blew up late last year.
The divide between the poor and what they see as the
establishment elite represents a collapse of a traditional
order in Thailand at a time when people have begun to broach
the hitherto taboo topic of royal succession.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same
devotion as his father, the world's longest-reigning monarch.