PM fails to put oath debate to bed
The Sept 18 parliamentary debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over his incomplete reciting of the oath of office is over. But the controversy lingers on as the opposition has refused to let go of the matter. This is because the prime minister did not himself clarify why he omitted to recite an important part of the oath as stipulated in the constitution but assigned his top legal expert, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, to act on his behalf.
In his clarification on the matter, Mr Wissanu was as slippery as an eel as he beat about the bush before referring to the Constitutional Court's ruling that the swearing-in ceremony was an affair between the government and His Majesty the King. In short, he offered no clarification as to whether the omission of the final part of the oath by the prime minister was intentional or unintentional.
During the debate, the prime minister only clarified the opposition's query about why he did not give details about the sources of funding for the government's projects during his presentation of the policy statement.
The prime minister's dodging of the oath controversy and Mr Wissanu's vague clarification are equally disappointing. Even if the prime minister can claim he has the right not to respond to the opposition's queries, his attitude can only be seen as a lack of acceptance of the opposition's role as a check-and-balance mechanism of the executive branch, if not his contempt for it.
The day after the debate, the prime minister went to Ubon Ratchathani province to observe the flood situation and visit flood victims. During the visit, he asked to see Pheu Thai MPs and, when none of them showed up, he told the crowd not to vote for the party the next time there is an election.
The prime minister should have known that no Pheu Thai MPs with any sense would show up to welcome him like the MPs from the Palang Pracharath Party. Hence, the instant retort from Pheu Thai chief strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan against the prime minister's unnecessary remark.
The opposition, too, should be blamed for breaking a promise which might have prompted the prime minister to defy their demand for his clarification. Before the debate, the opposition said they only wanted the prime minister to correct his mistake in the oath recital, but most of the MPs who joined the debate ended their rhetoric with a resonant call for his resignation.
The opposition is now pondering its next move against the prime minister over the same issue albeit with a vengeance to nail him this time. Wan Muhamad Nor Matha, leader of the Prachachat Party, one of the seven opposition parties, said legal experts are studying the code of ethics declared by the Constitutional Court which came into force in April this year.
Mr Wan said the opposition would petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) through the House Speaker faulting the prime minister for gross violation of the code of ethics for his failure to uphold the charter over his incomplete oath recital.
It remains to be seen whether the opposition's new bid to nail the prime minister passes the NACC and onto the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions.
The opposition's apparent obsession with the oath controversy will, in the long run, not cast the grouping in a positive light and risks it being branded as being bent on playing destructive politics rather than concentrating on issues that affect livelihoods of the people such as the flooding in Ubon Ratchathani, the proposed ban on three toxic herbicides which is being opposed by the National Hazardous Substances Committee and corruption in the bureaucracy, to name but a few.
But as far as the public is concerned, especially political enthusiasts, the prime minister's refusal to clarify the reasons behind the oath controversy is a big letdown. It is a straightforward and non-complicated issue that could be fixed with an honest explanation, which any good leader should offer. It is not a sensitive issue as claimed by Mr Wissanu because it is separate from the swearing-in ceremony.
It is a pity that the prime minister has allowed his emotions to blur his judgement.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.