Prayut beats rival for PM

Prayut beats rival for PM

Clinches majority despite Pheu Thai-led attack

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has reclaimed the premiership after he won a parliamentary majority last night.

His victory came after he faced the first test of his political career when MPs from the Pheu Thai-led coalition questioned his qualifications, focusing on his role as a coup-maker.

Still, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP)-led coalition -- together with the junta-picked senators -- queued up to defend him, saying that this time, Gen Prayut was assuming power by democratic means, based on the 2017 constitution.

With the support of 250 appointed senators and two key parties, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, Gen Prayut won a majority of votes at the joint House MP-Senate session last night.

Gen Prayut won 500 votes while his rival Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gained 244 votes with three abstentions.

Gen Prayut needed at least 376 votes, or more than half the total 750 MPs and senators to reclaim his prime minister post.

The session -- which started about 11am at the TOT Auditorium on Chaeng Watthana Road -- was still going late last night after more than ten hours of debate.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha smiles as he presided over an anti-human trafficking event held in Chaeng Watthana yesterday, while parliamentarians were debating on his suitability as a PM candidate before voting last night. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

House speaker Chuan Leekpai, who also serves as parliament president, allowed MPs and senators to discuss the qualifications of the prime ministerial candidates, after the PPRP nominated Gen Prayut, while the FFP nominated Mr Thanathorn for the post

Mr Thanathorn, who was supported by the seven-party Pheu Thai-led coalition, did not take part in the debate and the prime ministerial vote, because he is suspended as an MP, pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court on his alleged illegal holding of shares in a media company.

Pheu Thai and FFP MPs zeroed in on Gen Prayut having led the May 2014 coup, saying that fact alone made him unfit to be prime minister.

They said Gen Prayut should be disqualified from being a prime minister candidate because he is a coup-maker who overthrew the country's previous constitution. In addition, as head of the National Council for Peace and Order, he was "an official of a state agency" who under law cannot be a minister under the constitution.

Suthin Khlangsaeng, a Pheu Thai MP from Maha Sarakham, said Gen Prayut had several issues which did not sit well with the constitutional monarchy, and lacked the ethical standards required of a prime minister.

He said Gen Prayut stage managed a coup and granted himself an amnesty, before likening the former army chief to "a person who had set a temple on fire and was then appointed the temple's abbot".

FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul echoed Mr Suthin's opinions, criticising Gen Prayut's frequent use of Section 44 and numerous attempts to prolong his stay in power.

Mr Piyabutr said the 2017 regime-sponsored charter was hard to amend and this reflected the efforts of the regime to ensure its continued grip on power.

He reiterated his call for the 250 senators, handpicked by the regime, not to vote in the prime ministerial selection process.

MPs and senators stand up to receive the royal command appointing the Parliament President, Senate Speaker and their deputies at a parliamentary session yesterday while Parliament President Chuan Leekpai and his deputy Suchart Tancharoen, above, are seen deliberating during the session.  photos by Patipat Janthong

But Senator Seree Suwanpanont cried foul over the attack by Pheu Thai and FFP MPs on Gen Prayut, saying the debate should address the qualifications of both candidates.

The senator also defended the May 2014 military putsch, suggesting it was justified as the country was deeply divided and widespread violence was "looming on the horizon".

He also insisted the Senate's role in the prime ministerial vote was sanctioned by the charter. "If I vote for Gen Prayut, I won't base my decision on one-sided information. I also did my research on the FFP leader to determine if he is fit to lead the country," he said.

"What I found was shocking, because the party's constitution doesn't contain references to the constitutional monarchy, while those of the other parties do. I'm fond of 'dictatorial democracy', but not a fan of quasi-democracy," he said.

Senator Seree's comment sparked protests from Pheu Thai and FFP MPs. PPRP MP Waipot Apornrat argued Gen Prayut was nominated for the post because the PPRP received a mandate from the people.

The debate then turned into a no-confidence motion against Gen Prayut and the government's policies, including the suspension of gold mining operations by Akara Resources Plc, which operates Thailand's largest gold mine.

Outside, Mr Thanathorn held a press conference to outline his vision after a motion calling for the candidates to discuss their visions for the country was dropped. "Coups will only lead Thailand to a dead-end ... We must make parliament a place of honour, not a place where people's faith goes to die," Mr Thanathorn said.

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