Ombudsman calls Thai PM's incomplete oath unconstitutional

BANGKOK — Thailand's ombudsman ruled Tuesday that the prime minister's failure to recite a key sentence in his oath of office was unconstitutional, and will refer the matter to the Constitutional Court to decide whether the government was legally installed.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha omitted a sentence about upholding the constitution when he led his Cabinet in the oath in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on July 16.

If the Constitutional Court accepts the case and rules that the government lacks legitimacy, it might invalidate measures it has undertaken since taking office.

There has been much speculation about why Prayuth failed to include the phrase "I will also uphold and comply with the constitution of the kingdom in every aspect," and whether it was intentional or accidental.

Opposition lawmakers pointed it out the omission last month. Prayuth has said the matter is not a problem and the ombudsman's office said he told them he had completed the oath-taking.

He has made similar assertions on previous occasions but never explained how that could be the case.

The ombudsman's office ruled after three complaints were submitted to it by members of the public. While it can refer cases to the courts for prosecution, its rulings by themselves have no power of enforcement.

Prayuth's Cabinet at a ceremony Tuesday ahead of the ombudsman's ruling was given copies of a message from the king encouraging them to perform their duties according to the oath they swore.

In the brief letter, dated the day of the oath-taking, the king gave his blessings to conduct their duties with courage, confidence and determination for the country's benefit, happiness and stability.

The king as a constitutional monarch is supposed to have no political role, but holds a great amount of influence. Thailand has a tough lese majeste law that makes criticism of the monarchy liable to harsh punishment, and politicians have a history of using it against their opponents.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, a lawmaker who is secretary general of the opposition Future Forward Party, said the ceremony involving the king's letter did not amount to taking the oath of office again, and the matter therefore remains unresolved.

The parliamentary opposition is seeking to hold a debate on the oath controversy next month, and Prayuth said Tuesday he would attend its session to defend himself rather than assigning a colleague to represent him.

The oath is written into the constitution that was adopted in 2017 when Prayuth headed a military government that took power in a 2014 coup.

He became prime minister again after a general election in March that was held according to laws the military regime wrote to favor its political allies.

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