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Thai court rejects petition seeking to disqualify prime minister

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Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives for a photo session with the new Cabinet in Bangkok on July 16, 2019.Thailand's Constitutional Court rejected a petition from 110 lawmakers that claimed Mr Prayuth is ineligible for office.

[BANGKOK] Thailand's Constitutional Court rejected a petition from 110 lawmakers that claimed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is ineligible for office.

Mr Prayuth was entitled to seek to become premier after the March general election, according to a televised judgment on Wednesday in Bangkok.

The petition argued Mr Prayuth was a state official when he won the parliamentary vote for premier in June, and as such was ineligible to stand under constitutional rules.

"Today's decision signals the court continues to support this government," said Paul Chambers, a Thai politics expert at Naresuan University's College of Asean Community Studies. "This government is not going down any time soon."

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The court's decision is the second in a week to go in favor of the prime minister. On Sept 11, the judges declined to accept a complaint that Mr Prayuth and his Cabinet breached the charter by failing to recite the full oath of office.

The court said the July 16 swearing-in ceremony that took place in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn lay beyond its jurisdiction, and was a matter for the monarch and the Cabinet.

Former army chief Prayuth led a military coup in 2014 and went on to rule with absolute executive power at the head of a junta.

The long-delayed general election took place earlier this year. The disputed poll ushered in a pro-military, civilian administration led by Mr Prayuth.

He remained junta chief until he was sworn in as a civilian leader, leading to the lawmakers' complaint.

The ruling said the junta wasn't a state agency and therefore Mr Prayuth didn't count as a state official.

Critics have decried what they describe as the military's ongoing grip on power and continue to jab at the ruling coalition, which has a razor-thin parliamentary majority.

For instance, the opposition grilled the premier in parliament on Wednesday over the swearing-in controversy in an attempt to undermine the government's legitimacy. Some lawmakers called on him to step down.

There are lingering concerns about the risk of legislative gridlock given the opposition controls almost half the lower house.

Difficulty passing key bills, such as the annual budget due to be debated next month, could exacerbate a sharp slowdown in the Thai economy.

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