Another party pulls out of ruling coalition in Thailand, narrowing its majority in Parliament

In a photo taken on July 25, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha delivers the policy statement of the council of ministers in Parliament in Bangkok. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Another Thai political party has pulled out from the governing coalition led by the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party over an offensive "monkey" comment.

The Prachatham Thai Party (PTP), one of the 10 micro parties with only one elected MP each in the ruling coalition, announced its decision in a press conference on Tuesday (Sept 10), saying it needed to defend the honour of party members.

The move reduced the number of government seats to 252, a razor-thin majority in the 500-seat lower house of Parliament, which may not guarantee victory in a no-confidence vote.

"The party signed an agreement in May to support General Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister to help break a deadlock so that a government can be formed to allow the country to move forward economically and socially," said Mr Aniruth Samutkojorn, PTP secretary.

"But an interview given by a senior politician in the government in regards to a monkey caretaker has led society to view the party in a negative light. To preserve the party's honour and reputation, it was unanimously decided that the party will withdraw from the coalition," he added.

PTP's decision came after Deputy Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives Minister Thammanat Prompao, a representative from the Palang Pracharat Party assigned to mediate with the micro parties which reportedly are unhappy with the lack of political appointments for them, used a metaphor implying that he was a caretaker of monkeys who needed to keep feeding them with bananas.

PTP is the second party to pull out from the government of Prime Minister Prayut which was formed in July. The ruling coalition now consists of 16 parties.

In mid-August, Thai Civilised Party leader Mongkonkit Suksintharanon, announced a pullout over what was deemed as a blunder by General Prayut when he failed to utter a complete oath while being sworn in for a second term in July. "As long as Prayut stays in power, the Thai Civilised Party will not be a part of it," Mr Suksintharanon told a press conference.

General Prayut came into power in a May 2014 coup. He became prime minister in the same year and continued to rule as a junta leader until a general election was held in March this year. He won a second term thanks to the success of Palang Pracharat and a rubber stamp Senate.

More defections from the coalition could make it difficult for the government to pass a budget in the coming months, which would be crucial to maintaining investor confidence amid slowing economic growth.

Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, has told The Straits Times in an interview the ruling coalition would be a short-lived one due to its fragility.

PTP's decision on Tuesday prompted Mr Thammanat to apologise to all the micro parties, saying that he only used the metaphor as a joke and did not intend to offend anyone.

Mr Thammanat himself is currently under fire after news emerged that he had a criminal record in Australia. Two Australian dailies, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, on Monday reported that he spent four years in a Sydney prison for smuggling heroin in the 1990s. The deputy agriculture minister has insisted that he did not smuggle or deal in drugs, and only served eight months in prison for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

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