Confidence debate a scorcher, MPs say
Crisis of public faith picked as drama unfolds
The opposition parties expect the upcoming no-confidence debate to bring the government to its knees while academics believe a cabinet reshuffle may follow as the government will soon be in its second year in office.
The debate is set to take place from Tuesday to Friday and a vote will be taken on Saturday, with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and nine other cabinet ministers in the opposition's crosshairs.
This will be the second time the government will be censured by the opposition in a no-confidence debate after having stayed in office for almost two years.
The opposition will take aim at leaders of the key coalition parties such as Bhumjaithai Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, Democrat Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who is leader of the main coalition Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
The other cabinet ministers named in the censure motion are Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, Education Minister Nathaphol Teepsuwan, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, Deputy Interior Minister Niphon Bunyamanee and Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow.
Other ministers from various coalition parties will also be targeted in the debate. The opposition parties have initially assigned about 40 MPs for the grilling.
Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, told the Bangkok Post the debate is expected to focus on the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and social impacts.
"The impacts of the second wave of the outbreak have now spilled over from the tourism sector into the farming sector and fishing industry, particularly informal workers which account for 55.2% of the country's workforce and are not covered by the social security system,'' Assoc Prof Yuttaporn said.
"The issues associated with access to Covid-19 vaccines, and the use of the emergency decree are also expected to be raised,'' he added.
Tit-for-tat among coalition partners
Assoc Prof Yuttaporn said that while cabinet ministers are expected to survive the no-confidence vote because the government commands a majority in the House, it is likely the number of votes each minister receive will vary and it is inevitable that attention will focus on the minister who get the fewest votes.
Friction was seen among coalition partners in the previous no-confidence debate in February last year when MPs from the coalition Democrat Party did not vote for Capt Thamanat who was among six cabinet ministers targeted in that debate.
This time, a faction of MPs under Capt Thamanat may not vote for cabinet ministers from the Democrat Party in what is seen as a tit-for tat measure, Assoc Prof Yuttaporn said.
He also said the anti-government movement will also plan its own version of a censure debate against the government on the streets at the same time as the debate in parliament.
Cabinet reshuffle likely
Assoc Prof Yuttaporn said Gen Prayut has his hands full tackling Covid-19 and associated economic problems so he was reluctant to "swap horses in the middle of the stream''.
However, information presented by the opposition in the debate may be a factor leading to a cabinet reshuffle as the government enters its second year in office in July.
"The government will have to explain how it has been trying to solve the economic problems. If it fails to provide a good explanation, all criticism will be directed at the prime minister," Assoc Prof Yuttaporn said.
However, the opposition parties will lose credibility if they fail to present any new information and keep complaining about the power seizure by coupmakers, he said.
Jade Donavanik, a legal scholar and former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, said the opposition's no-confidence motion which contains a reference to the monarchy was unprecedented.
In the face of this, the government tried to change the game by launching a petition seeking the Constitutional Court's review on the legality of the motion, Assoc Prof Jade said.
The petition, sponsored by PPRP list MP Paiboon Nititawan, asks the House to seek the court's ruling on the legality of the opposition's no-confidence motion after the opposition refused to reword certain parts of the motion.
The process to obtain the court's ruling is potentially time-consuming, and is seen by government critics as an attempt to stall the censure debate.
The petition needs to be endorsed by the House, which is held by the government coalition, before it is forwarded to the court.
"The opposition may want to put the government in an awkward position, making it hard for the government to explain," Mr Jade said.
"On the other hand, the government is also trying to come up with a game changer,'' he said.
PPRP list-MP Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn previously said if the court rules against the opposition's motion to hold the debate in its current state, it will be compelled to make changes.
He said if the court considers the government's petition, the debate will likely be postponed. Mr Chaiwut said he was confident the public would understand the party's move because censure debates are political matters and the monarchy should be left out of it.
Covid-19 key issue
Mr Jade went on to say that the government's credibility depends on how to deal with three issues related to the second wave of Covid-19 -- illegal gambling dens, illegal migrant workers and the clarity over its management and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
"The government will receive the credit if it explains them well. If it cannot, people will lose trust. Even if the government wins the vote in parliament, the people who see the debate will know how well the government can solve problems,'' he said.
Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang said that the opposition parties will be given 42 hours for the no-confidence debate and they will try to wrap it up within the given time frame.
"In this debate, we hope to achieve three results. Firstly, we hope the prime minister changes his way of thinking and working which will benefit the country," said Mr Sutin, also a Maha Sarakham MP of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party.
"Secondly, we expect the PM to reshuffle the cabinet after we point out how the nine ministers are the government's weakness.
"Ultimately, we expect a change of government to happen because eventually it is unlikely the prime minister will change his way of thinking and will not change any ministers. A crisis of faith will follow.''
He expressed confidence that information the opposition parties have obtained is a potent weapon.
Even if the government wins the vote in parliament, the people will be unhappy with the problems that will be exposed in parliament and they will put pressure on the government to react. As a result, coalition parties may withdraw from the government leading to the government's downfall, Mr Sutin said.
Pheu Thai secretary-general Prasert Jantararuangtong, a Nakhon Ratchasima MP, said the party has obtained evidence pointing to some cabinet ministers being involved in irregularities.
After the censure debate, the party will petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to look into the matter, he said.
However, Mr Chaiwut said unity among the coalition parties remains intact so all government MPs are expected to vote in the same manner for the ministers targeted in the censure motion.
Mr Chaiwut also brushed aside speculation of a cabinet reshuffle after the debate, saying there have been no weighty issues that merit the reshuffle.
"It is also up to coalition parties to decide whether they will need to make any changes. But the overall climate remains good. There is no need for a reshuffle,'' Mr Chaiwut said.
"When it comes to the running of the country, the relations among coalition parties are still okay, though we may have different opinions on some issues."