Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Monday challenged those who believe the eight-year limit on Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's premiership should expire this month to seek a Constitutional Court ruling on the matter.
He was responding to six opposition parties led by Cholnan Srikaew, leader of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, who on Sunday threatened to seek a court interpretation ahead of Aug 24 when they believe Gen Prayut's tenure should expire.
A House of Representatives legal team 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 this month, based on the reasoning that his premiership began the day he was installed as the head of the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) after the 2014 coup.
Mr Wissanu, a top legal expert, said Gen Prayut can legally serve for up to eight years as prime minister as stipulated by Section 158 of the constitution. "If the court rules his premiership started in 2014, so be it," he said.
Asked whether Gen Prayut needed to be present at the court if the opposition parties filed a petition, Mr Wissanu said the court would not summon the prime minister, but it will gather opinions from the government agencies in the form of letters.
Mr Wissanu also said the situation has reached the stage where the government must prepare for a response from the court.
The deputy prime minister insisted Gen Prayut has never appointed a working team to study his tenure issue and the government has no plan to address a court ruling either way.
Asked whether Gen Prayut would be suspended if the Constitutional Court accepts the petition, Mr Wissanu said that would be decided by the court.
Earlier, Mr Wissanu said Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon would become interim prime minister in the event Gen Prayut had to leave office.
It is understood that parliament president Chuan Leekpai would then call a vote in parliament to find a replacement prime minister.