Thailand's Constitutional Court received a petition from opposition lawmakers on a legal term limit for the country's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha this week, triggering fresh political turmoil and street protests in the kingdom.
Some 171 members of the House of Representatives backed the petition, which asks the court to rule on an article in the constitution limiting the office of prime ministers to eight years. The court is yet to announce whether it will take up the case.
If so, it is uncertain what ramifications this would have for the Prime Minister Prayuth. A temporary suspension until a ruling is issued is just one of the possible outcomes.
Street protests calling for the resignation of the prime minister have been ongoing in the past couple of days, with police having placed shipping containers to protect streets around government buildings in anticipation of a possible escalation on Tuesday.
Controversy about onset of Prayuth's term
The court is asked to rule on the date that should be used to determine when Prayuth took office and consequently, how long he can remain in his present position.
The current prime minister seized power as an army commander in May 2014 after toppling an elected government in a military coup.
He led a military junta for the first months and was officiated in August of the same year.
His opponents believe this should be the date used to decide on the eight year term limit, which the 68-year-old would then reach on Wednesday, motivating calls for his resignation.
However, his supporters argue that he has been the premier since 2017, when a new constitution was installed or since 2019, after he won a controversial national election.
If the court accepted this claim, Prayuth would have the legal framework to remain in office until 2025 or 2027, as long as he gained enough further support during national elections.
The outcome is uncertain, but many analysts think the court will rule in Prayuth's favour.
Increasing disapproval among the public
Critics of Prayuth have been questioning his political legitimacy for the past two years, while polls show that his approval ratings are at an all time low.
The former army commander has remained in power despite major anti-government protests in 2020, a failed national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a plummeting economy and political mishaps, but it is the constitution he helped install that could now cost him his office.
Fueling the fire, protesters have become jarred by the economic stagnation and grievances inflicted upon their country during Prayuth's time in office.
However, Prayuth and his coalition government have survived four no-confidence votes since the 2019 election, with the most recent one being held last month.
National elections are scheduled for March 2023, but the premier has the authority to call for an earlier date.