BANGKOK - A Thai court will decide this week whether to give embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra more time to defend herself against charges of abuse of power, accusations that could bring her down, or whether to move swiftly to a verdict.
The fate of Yingluck and her government will determine the course of politics in Thailand which is polarised between the supporters of her and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and supporters of the royalist establishment.
The confrontation between the two sides, marked by occasional violence, has undermined growth in Southeast Asia's second biggest economy.
Yingluck's government has faced months of sometimes violent anti-government protests but it appeared to be weathering the storm until legal challenges against her began to mount in February.
The charges Yingluck faces this week relate to the transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, which opponents say was done to benefit her party. The Constitutional Court will decide on Wednesday whether to grant her an extension to prepare her defence.
If the court eventually finds her guilty, Yingluck will be forced to step down. "If the court does not grant the prime minister an extension this week and there is enough evidence, then the next court date will be the verdict," Constitutional Court spokesman Pimon Thampitakphong told Reuters on Monday, adding that the verdict could come at the end of April.
The prime minister has also been charged with dereliction of duty for overseeing a state rice-buying scheme critics say was riddled with corruption. The National Anti-Corruption Commission, which brought the charges against her, rejected a request by her lawyers last week to allow two more witnesses.
The commission is expected to deliver its ruling in May. If found guilty, Yingluck could be removed from office and may get a five-year ban from politics.