248 former Thailand MPs, mostly from party of ousted premier, survive impeachment vote

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta-picked Parliament on Friday voted against impeaching 248 former lawmakers, in a rare reprieve for a party that was unceremoniously kicked out of office after last year's coup.

The vast majority of the former MPs facing an impeachment vote hailed from the Pheu Thai party of ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra, which has been left powerless and silenced since the generals seized power.

The rubber-stamp National Legislative Assembly (NLA) had pushed a retroactive impeachment of the MPs over a 2013 attempt to make the upper house a fully elected chamber, a move that was later deemed unconstitutional in the courts.

A successful impeachment would have seen the former lawmakers banned from politics for five years and delivered a hammer blow to Pheu Thai's political fortunes if the military hands back power to civilians, as it has promised to do so next year.

It required 132 out of 220 assembly members to vote in favour.

But when the results came, the threshold had not been met for any of the MPs.

"The National Legislative Assembly resolves not to impeach," Mr Peerasak Porjit, the second vice-president for the legislature, told delegates after the results for each former MP had been read out individually.

A similar move earlier this year to punish a group of senators who supported the same bill also failed to win enough votes, and few observers were expecting a new set of mass impeachments over the same issue.

Ms Yingluck has been less fortunate. In January, she was retroactively impeached over her administration's popular but economically disastrous rice subsidy scheme.

She also faces separate criminal negligence charges over corruption within that scheme, which could see her jailed for up to ten years.

Thailand's generals say their May 2014 coup was necessary to restore order after months of often violent anti-Yingluck protests paralysed Bangkok.

But critics say it was the latest attempt to claw back power from the Shinawatra family for the kingdom's elites and their supporters in the military and judiciary.

Under military rule, civilian parties are effectively banned from gathering or operating.

The military takeover last year was the latest crisis in a kingdom that has been riven by bitter political divisions since 2006, when Yingluck's brother Thaksin was ousted in an earlier army coup, backed by Bangkok's royalist establishment.

The country's elites despise the Shinawatras - wildly popular in the north and northeast - accusing them of poisoning politics with populism, corruption and cronyism.

Nonetheless parties run by or affiliated to the Shinawatra clan have won every election since 2001.