Prayut, ministers survive no-confidence vote

Prayut, ministers survive no-confidence vote

PM got second fewest votes of confidence after labour minister

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at Parliament during the no-confidence debate on Thursday. (Parliament of Thailand photo)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks at Parliament during the no-confidence debate on Thursday. (Parliament of Thailand photo)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and five cabinet ministers have survived the no-confidence vote with no surprises despite rumours that some coalition MPs might break ranks earlier.

Gen Prayut got 264-208 votes, with three abstentions, the second-fewest votes of confidence after Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin from the Palang Pracharath Party, who got 263-201 with 10 abstentions.

The 208 no-confidence votes he received was also the most of all six on the list.

In the previous censure debates, he sailed through with the most votes of confidence, with 274, both in February last year and February this year.

Deputy Prime minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Saturday won 269-196 with 11 abstentions. Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob got 269-195 votes with 10 abstentions. Both were from the Bhumjaithai Party.

Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on from the Democrat Party won the most votes of confidence at 270-199 with eight abstentions while Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, the new digital economy and society minister from the PPRP, received 267-202 with nine abstentions.

Over the past four days, opposition lawmakers censured Gen Prayut and his top ministers, saying they mismanaged the economic assistance programs, virus containment measures and the vaccination rollout.

While the number of daily infections has come down from a peak of over 20,000 cases, just about 13% of 70 million people are fully inoculated, well below a global average of about 28%, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

This is the third attempt by the opposition to unseat the government since the 2019 elections, with attempts failing as Gen Prayut’s coalition holds about 60% of parliament seats. An earlier no-confidence vote this year was held in February.

Still, infighting within the PPRP may complicate matters. 

“Even though the prime minister survived the vote, it doesn’t mean that the conflict between factions within his party has been resolved. It just means that the whipping for this vote was successful,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, a visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

“The recent infighting suggests that it could be more difficult for Prayut to return as premier after the next election because his popularity within his party and the public is tanking.”

Gen Prayut on Friday denied there was any conflict within the party leadership.

Protest movement 

The prime minister still faces a youth-led protest movement that has been demanding his resignation for more than a year over allegations the government is a continuation of his junta.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have held daily gatherings for much of this week to keep the pressure on the military-backed government and Gen Prayut, who repeatedly said he wouldn’t quit or dissolve parliament.

Gen Prayut rebutted claims from the opposition, saying the government was doing its best to save lives and revive the economy despite the fast-evolving situation and budget constraints. He argued that Thailand managed the pandemic relatively well with infection and death rates lower than global averages, and that the government has provided unprecedented financial support. 

“Throughout Thai history, there’s no other prime minister that helped the people like I did,” Gen Prayut said earlier this week at the censure debates. He pointed to various measures of support for those affected by the pandemic, and steps to prop up the tourism-dependent country by boosting public spending, consumption and exports. 

Thailand relaxed some of its lockdown restrictions this month to allow for travel, as well as  the reopening of restaurants and malls to gradually boost Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

Gross domestic product contracted last year and the forecast is for a weak recovery in 2021. The move is part of the government’s “living with Covid” strategy that allows more sectors to reopen provided the healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed. 

The country still has more than 150,000 active cases, with nearly 5,000 in critical condition. Fatalities topped 12,000 just as some of the virus curbs were eased, while over 1.2 million cases have been recorded since the start of the pandemic last year. 

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