BANGKOK – Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra defended herself Tuesday against allegations of abuse of power in a crucial court case that is one of several legal challenges that could remove her from office.
Yingluck’s testimony at the Constitutional Court marked the latest twist in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis. Supporters accuse the courts of trying to topple Yingluck through unfair use of the legal system after six months of anti-government protests failed to unseat her.
She is accused of abusing her authority by transferring her National Security Council chief in 2011 to another position. Critics say the transfer was to benefit her ruling party and violated the constitution.
The case was lodged by anti-government senators, who won an initial victory in February when another court ruled that the official, Thawil Pliensri, must be restored to his job.
If Yingluck is found guilty of interfering in state affairs for her personal benefit or that of her political party, she would have to step down as prime minister.
The court has not said when it will rule on the case.
Thailand has been gripped by political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s billionaire brother, was ousted in a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have each taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle that is currently focused on removing Yingluck, who took office in 2011. Opponents say she is a proxy for her brother, who is living overseas in self-imposed exile.
More than 20 people have been killed in protest-related violence since November.
The courts and independent state agencies are widely seen as biased against Thaksin’s political machine, and there are fears that Yingluck supporters could return to the streets if they feel she is facing a “judicial coup.”
Currently, Yingluck is a caretaker prime minister, having called early elections in February as a way of affirming her mandate after the protests against her began. However, the Feb. 2 polls were subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court and new polls have been scheduled for July.
Several other legal cases are pending against the prime minister and members of Yingluck’s party that could make it impossible for her to form a government.
Yingluck’s opponents hope that a failure to form a new government will spark a constitutional crisis, allowing them to invoke vaguely defined clauses in the charter and have an unelected prime minister installed.