Embattled Thai PM Prayut survives budget test in Parliament

A protester holds a framed portrait of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, during a demonstration calling for his removal in Bangkok, on Aug 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand's Parliament has passed a US$89 billion (S$123.91 billion) annual budget Bill for the 2023 fiscal year, handing another victory to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who survived a no-confidence vote last month in which the opposition had accused him of mismanaging the economy.

The 3.19 trillion baht spending plan, which also includes a deficit of 695 billion baht ($26.86 billion) for the fiscal year starting Oct 1, received the backing of the majority of the 500-seat Lower House during the final vote on Tuesday (Aug 23).

While a total of 258 lawmakers supported the budget, 180 members voted against it after a five-day debate.

The budget Bill will now go to the Senate, where Mr Prayut’s coalition commands a majority, for approval within 20 days.

Mr Prayut and his government have come under criticism as they grapple with reviving the pandemic-battered economy.

Thailand is on course to see the slowest expansion among South-east Asian peers this year, with inflation hovering at a 14-year high.

The Prime Minister had been expected to gain parliamentary backing for the budget Bill, though he remains deeply unpopular.

In an independent opinion poll published in June, Mr Prayut trailed significantly behind Paetongtarn Shinawatra of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, daughter of former ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was toppled in a coup in 2006.

Mr Prayut, who was the junta chief following a 2014 coup and stayed on as civilian prime minister after elections in 2019, faces a ruling by the nation's Constitutional Court on his eligibility to stay on in the office.

The opposition parties sought a ruling on when his term should end, saying that he would exceed an eight-year limit as stipulated by the 2017 military-backed charter if he stayed in office beyond Aug 23.

The court is likely to decide on Wednesday if it should accept the petition or dismiss it, according to the Bangkok Post.

“Political risk appears low for now, but noise is likely to rise in the second half as the government’s term is nearing an end and pre-election activity begins,” Tim Leelahaphan, a Bangkok-based economist at Standard Chartered said in a note Tuesday.

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