BANGKOK – Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra more time to submit her defense against allegations of abuse of power, which could see her removed from office.
The premier, who has faced a series of legal challenges to her tenure as well as months of sometimes violent anti-government street protests, must give her defense by May 2, the court said in a statement.
The case pivots on the transfer of then-national security chief Thawil Pliensri after Yingluck was elected in 2011.
A group of senators filed a complaint to the court over Thawil’s transfer, saying it was carried out for the benefit of Yingluck’s party.
Under the constitution — drawn up after a 2006 coup that ousted Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, as premier — such an offense could lead to her sacking.
The court granted Yingluck’s request for a 15-day extension — starting from last Friday, when she made the application — and said it “will hear four more witnesses on May 6″ including Yingluck and Thawil.
But the statement did not indicate when the court may deliver its ruling.
Judicial agencies have moved to center stage of the political drama, which has lasted almost six months. Apart from months of street protests, which have now largely abated, the kingdom has not had a fully functioning government since December.
A February election intended to end the impasse was annulled.
Political violence has left at least 25 people dead and hundreds more wounded, raising fears of a wider conflict to come.
On Wednesday afternoon Kamol Duangpasuk — a pro-government “Red Shirt” poet and critic of Thailand’s controversial royal defamation laws — was shot dead in front of a Bangkok restaurant, according to local police.
But officers could not immediately confirm if the murder of the 44-year-old poet, also known by his pen name Mainueng Kor Kuntee, was politically motivated.
Yingluck is also accused of negligence linked to a loss-making rice subsidy program that critics say engendered widespread corruption.
Either case could lead to her removal from office and pro-government supporters have upped their rhetoric in anticipation of a knockout legal blow over coming weeks.
Prominent Red Shirt activist Thida Thavornseth said she expects the Constitutional Court to rule against Yingluck in early May.
“Until then we will travel to our provinces to get our people ready to rally. . . . We will protect this government,” she said in a televised speech.
Mass protests by the Red Shirts in 2010 triggered a military crackdown under the then-Democrat Party government that left scores dead.
The backdrop to the crisis is Thaksin’s removal from power in a 2006 coup, which plunged the kingdom into political turmoil from which it has yet to emerge.
Thailand has since been cleaved by rivalries broadly pitting the Bangkok-based middle class and establishment, as well as the staunchly royalist south, against the north and northeastern rural heartlands of the Shinawatra clan.
Thaksin-allied parties have won every valid election for more than a decade.
Anti-government protesters want Yingluck to resign to make way for an unelected “people’s council” to oversee reforms aimed at diluting the Shinawatras’ influence on politics.
The political paralysis has also darkened the outlook for the kingdom’s economy, with tourism among the sectors hit hardest.
In response the central bank on Wednesday said it would hold its benchmark interest rate at 2.0 percent — a three-year low.
Economic growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2013, to just 0.6 percent year on year, from 2.7 percent in the previous quarter.