Thailand’s constitutional court declared caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abuse of power on Wednesday, removing her and nine Cabinet members from office in a move set to deepen the country’s six-month long political crisis.
The much anticipated verdict centres on the unlawful transfer of a senior official in 2011, which the court deemed was engineered to benefit Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai party as well as her brother-in-law.
Nine other caretaker cabinet members were also judged by the court to be equally guilty of offence and dismissed from office.
Cabinet members who were not affected, like deputy prime minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, are expected to assume the reins of the caretaker administration.
Shortly after Ms Yingluck was removed from office, the cabinet appointed a new caretaker prime minister.
“The cabinet has agreed to appoint Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan to act as caretaker prime minister,” said Mr Phongthep.
In a televised speech later on Wednesday, Ms Yingluck denied any wrongdoing by her government.
"We have held the values of loyalty and honesty in governing, have never conducted any activities that are dishonest like what we are accused of, or do things benefitting a specific person, or violate any law and even constitution like what we are accused of,'' she said.
Ms Yingluck also thanked her supporters and said she was very proud to have been the prime minister for two years and nine months.
"I am very honoured to have performed my duty as prime minister who came from an election, elected by the people, and I have become prime minister through a democratic process...From now on, whatever position I am in, I pledge that I will stand with the Thai people always."
It is unclear now whether a July 20 general election, which was tentatively scheduled after the Feb 2 one as annulled by the court, will proceed.
The election commission, which was supposed to submit a draft decree for the poll on Tuesday, held it back and instead called for meeting with the government.
There are fears that the verdict could lead to greater violence as pro-government “red shirt” supporters prepare to descend upon the capital in protest, further depressing its dampened economic prospects.
Thailand has been in political limbo since Dec 9, when Ms Yingluck dissolved its House of Representatives and called for snap polls in face growing street protests against her government.
Her opponents are backed by the royalist elite, urban middle class as well as supporters of the opposition Democrat Party, who accuse Ms Yingluck of being a puppet of her brotherThaksin Shinawatra, who helmed the country until he was ousted in a coup 2006.
The tycoon lives in self-exile overseas to evade a jail sentence meted out for corruption, but is accused of retaining undue control over the country as well as its economy. Support from the rural masses means that Thaksin-linked political parties have returned to power repeatedly over the past decade.
Since late November, anti-government protesters demanding that Ms Yingluck and her Cabinet make way for an appointed administration have sabotaged the Feb 2 election, blockaded Bangkok’s streets and occupied key government buildings. They want reforms to be carried out under an appointed interim administration before any elections are called.
At least 25 people have died and hundreds injured since the unrest broke out late last year.
Thailand’s courts, while having thrown out two Thaksin-linked premiers in 2008, have been friendly towards the protesters. In February, the Thai Civil Court stripped the caretaker government of most of its emergency powers to deal with street email@example.com