Six opposition parties plan to seek an interpretation by the Constitutional Court next August on when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's tenure expires, as they believe his term must end on Aug 24, 2022, Cholnan Srikaew, leader of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, said on Wednesday.
He was responding to reports that a legal team of the House of Representatives claimed Gen Prayut's term technically began on June 9, 2019, when his premiership received royal endorsement under the 2017 constitution. This means he would be entitled to serve until up to 2027.
The opposition, however, has always insisted that Gen Prayut's maximum eight-year tenure ends next August, based on the reasoning that his premiership began on the day he was installed as the head of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after the 2014 coup.
The issue is being fiercely debated as it will serve as a key indicator of when the next general election will take place.
A House source said its legal team was assigned to go over the issue earlier and concluded the PM's tenure began on June 9, 2019.
The legal team believes Gen Prayut's tenure as leader of the caretaker regime from April 6, 2017 -- when the current charter was promulgated until before his appointment as prime minister was royally endorsed on June 9, 2019 -- cannot be included in the calculation, said the source.
According to this logic, and as Gen Prayut can legally serve for up to eight years as prime minister, his maximum tenure is due to end in 2027, which qualifies him as a prime ministerial candidate in the next poll, the source added.
This conclusion was reported to House speaker Chuan Leekpai in late October, said the source.
However such an interpretation is so contentious that "it must be forwarded to the Constitutional Court" for a final decision, according to Sutin Klungsang, Maha Sarakham MP for the Pheu Thai Party and opposition chief whip.
Metha Matkhao, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD), said the findings of the House's legal team were nonsense.
He said the team was being exploited to serve the interests of those already in power, and predicted it would ignite a new round of political unrest.
Gen Prayut declined to comment when questioned on the matter on Wednesday.