By The Nation
The court ruled that military regulations allow former officers to remain in their Army residence after retirement.
Wednesday’s verdict came amid political unrest that has been escalating since July, with pro-democracy protesters demanding Prayut’s resignation, charter change and monarchy reform.
Protesters have called a rally at Lat Phrao Intersection today.
The opposition accused Prayut of breaching the Constitution by staying on at an official Army residence in the First Infantry Battalion of Royal Guards on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road in Bangkok, after his military retirement at the end of September 2014.
Prayut was accused of violating Sections 184 and 186 of the Constitution that forbid a government minister from “receiving any special money or benefit from a government agency, state agency or state enterprise apart from that given by the government agency, state agency or state enterprise to other persons in the ordinary course of business”.
In his court testimony, Prayut argued he had to stay at the Army base because the PM’s official residence, Baan Phitsanulok, was being renovated, according to a Parliament source.
Also, the PM argued that his security team suggested he live at the Army residence for safety. Hence, he said, the court should dismiss the petition against him.
Similar housing has been provided to other former Army chiefs who are members of the Cabinet, the Privy Council and Parliament, the Army says.
The opposition pushed the case knowing that a guilty verdict would mean Prayut was removed and disqualified from holding government office for two years.
It also knew an acquittal would mean business as usual for the prime minister, perhaps even bolstering his legitimacy as PM.
The Constitutional Court has played a key role in shifting political momentum in past years, making several controversial verdicts deemed politically biased by critics.
Three previous PMs have lost their posts as a result of Charter Court verdicts -- Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat and Yingluck Shinawatra.
The court has disqualified two prime ministers – Samak and Yingluck – and dissolved a handful of political parties including Thai Rak Thai, People's Power, Thai Nation Party, Neutral Democratic Party and, most recently, Future Forward. Somchai lost his post as a result of a charter court ruling that dissolved his People’s Power Party.
All were at the opposite end of the spectrum to the conservative establishment.
The verdicts were also seen as fuel for mass protests by the red shirts and now Ratsadon (People’s Movement) against conservative governments and the royalist establishment.