Thailand's political crisis seems to have finally reached a tipping point. The country's Constitutional Court found Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra guilty of abuse of power yesterday. The ruling, declared live on Thai TV, will force her and nine of her ministers to step down with no recourse for appeal. The cabinet has elected the commerce minster, Niwatthamrong Noongphaisan, as caretaker prime minister.
The court found that Yingluck's 2011 transfer of the National Security Council Chief was done with a 'hidden agenda', in violation of the constitution. This was in relation to Section 266 and 268 of the constitution, which declares that officials should not use their positions to benefit their own interests. Yingluck appointed a relative in place of the incumbent National Security Council Chief.
Thailand has a long history of politicisation of its judiciary (an in-depth look at Thailand's judicial coup culture is here and here). Yingluck's dismissal is widely seen as having been orchestrated by her political opponents rather than through an independent process by the judiciary.
Thailand's judiciary, including the Constitutional Court, is seen to be strongly in favour of the Yellow Shirt group, largely made up of Bangkokians and the wealthy elite. But the Yellow Shirts, who have taken to the streets in protest during the past six months, are unlikely to be entirely satisfied by her removal. Many still believe that the Shinawatra's influence in politics is too great and an appointed reformist council should be installed before new elections take place. A mass rally is planned for Friday at Lumpini Park in Bangkok.
On the other side, Yingluck's Red Shirt supporters have long declared that they would descend on the capital if she was forced from office.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a Red Shirt organisation, has planned a mass rally on Saturday with tens of thousands expected to travel to the capital. A Red Shirt adviser and former military officer told the BBC in April that 200,000 armed guards would be ready to march on Bangkok if Yingluck was forced from office.
The military has repeatedly stated during the crisis that if violence boiled over it would intervene. That point seems to be growing nearer.
There had recently been some hope that progress was being made toward a break in the deadlock. The tone of political dialogue had been more conciliatory in recent weeks and a new election date set for 20 July. The dismissal of Yingluck will change that dynamic — whether it is for better or worse remains to be seen. Regardless, the real battle now lies in the streets. If history is any judge, expect violent protests followed by a military coup.