According to Reuters, Thailand's Constitutional Court on Friday (March 21) annulled last month's general election, leaving the Land of Smiles in a political quagmire as PM Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, faces impeachment over a failed rice subsidy plan.
Weakened by five months of unrest, the PM is expected to defend herself before an anti-corruption commission by March 31; a decision to seek her impeachment could come soon after that, with the Senate expected to take up the matter quickly.
To make matters worse, as the crisis deepens, there is a growing risk that the "red shirt" supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, could confront their opponents in the streets, plunging Thailand into a fresh round of political violence.
Twenty-three people have been killed in the unrest since November 2013. The economy suffered and tourists stayed away as protesters shut government offices and at times blocked major thoroughfares in Bangkok to try to force Yingluck out.
COMMENT: Consumer confidence is at a 12-year low, prompting the Central Bank on Friday to cut its economic growth forecast for this year to 2.7% percent.
The Constitutional Court judges ruled in a 6 to 3 vote on Friday that the election was unconstitutional because voting failed to take place on the same day around the country.
Anti-government protesters had stopped voting in about a fifth of constituencies, and in 28 of them voting was not possible at all because candidates were unable to register.
The agitation was the latest chapter in an eight-year crisis that pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin Shinawatra, the latter of whom was toppled by the army in 2006 and lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.
The focus has shifted to the courts, in particular to the prospect of Yingluck being impeached over a rice scheme that wently badly wrong, with hundreds of thousands of farmers not getting paid for grain sold to the state since October.
"Independent agencies are being quite obvious that they want to remove Yingluck and her entire cabinet to create a power vacuum, claim that elections can't be held and then nominate a prime minister of their choice," said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit, referring to the courts and the anti-corruption commission.
The commission could recommend her impeachment in coming days. She could then be removed from office by the upper house Senate, which is likely to have an anti-Thaksin majority after an election for half its members on March 30.
Some analysts say it will fall to the Senate to then appoint a "neutral" prime minister, probably the type of establishment figure the protesters have been demanding all along.