BANGKOK - Thailand's Constitutional Court rules on Wednesday whether to remove the prime minister from office for abuse of power, with an expected guilty verdict likely to bring her supporters into the street and plunge the country into a political vacuum.
Yingluck Shinawatra has faced six months of protests in the capital, Bangkok, aimed at toppling her government. The protesters have failed to achieve their aim in the street and are now looking to legal challenges to remove her.
"It is almost certain the court will rule against Yingluck. Her party will not accept that decision," said political analyst Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank. "What is unclear is whether the whole cabinet will go with her. If it does, we will be left without a prime minister, a cabinet and a lower house. In short, Thailand will enter a void, a constitutional crisis." The ruling is expected sometime after mid-day (0500 GMT).
The charges relate to Yingluck's transfer of National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri in 2011, which opponents say was designed to benefit her Puea Thai Party and a family member.
Yingluck defended herself in court on Tuesday and denied benefiting from the transfer.
Some legal experts say the court may rule to remove ministers involved in that transfer decision or that her entire government will have to go if she is forced to step down.
Her party rejects that and says if Yingluck goes, an interim prime minister can be chosen from among her five deputies.
It remains unclear how a new premier would be appointed if Yingluck and her entire cabinet are forced to step down. There has been no lower house of parliament since December so it could fall to the Senate upper house. "That prime minister would probably come from the opposition side which is another problem because the Puea Thai Party and its supporters will never accept that," said Kan.
The 150-seat Senate includes 77 elected members. The other 73 are appointed and are largely seen as opponents of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is seen as the power behind her government.
The crisis broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and lives in exile abroad to avoid a jail sentence handed down in 2008 for abuse of power.