Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha won parliamentary votes to reclaim the premiership on Wednesday night 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.
The combined members of the House of Representatives and Senate cast 500 votes for Gen Prayut, well ahead of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's 244 in the meeting at the TOT auditorium.
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 Future Forward Party (FFP) nominated party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for the post.
Mr Thanathorn 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 claimed two key factors that should make Gen Prayut be disqualified from being prime minister candidates stipulated in the constitution. The factors are that Gen Prayut is a coup maker who overthrown the country's constitution monarchy and he is the head of the National Council for Peace and Order, meaning that he is "an official of state agency" which is prohibited to 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.
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 and projects, including the suspension of gold mining operations by Akara Resources Plc, which operates Thailand's largest gold mine.
PPRP MP Buddhipongse Punnakanta, a former government spokesman, rose to defend the closure of the gold mines, saying the move was to minimise environmental damage and prevent conflicts.
Outside the TOT auditorium, Mr Thanathorn held a press conference to outline his vision after a motion calling for the candidates to discuss their visions and plans 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.
"I am ready to be Thailand's next prime minister ... I will be the prime minister of change."
Meanwhile, Senator Wanlop Tangkhananurak said on Wednesday he found it hard to compare the two candidates, who seemed to be in different leagues.
"If the Pheu Thai Party nominated a veteran politician with more experience, such as Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan or Chadchart [Sittipunt] or Chaikasem [Nitisiri], it would be easier to compare," he said.
Anudit Nakhonthap, a Pheu Thai MP for Bangkok, on Wednesday threw in the towel, saying based on the senators' discussions, Gen Prayut was likely to win the vote.
"So, it's impossible for the Pheu Thai [camp] to win," he said.