Thai govt survives first no-confidence motion in 7 years

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha received 272 votes of confidence against 50. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - The Thai government survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament on Friday (Feb 28) following four days of intense censure debate targeting six top government officials including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Mr Prayut received 272 votes of confidence against 49.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan received 277 votes of confidence against 50; Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krea-ngam had 272 votes of confidence against 54; Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda 272 against 54; Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai 272 against 55; and Deputy Agriculture Minister Thamanat Prompow 269 against 55.

The no-confidence motion came after a boycott by some opposition MPs over time allocation for the censure debate on Thursday, which they had perceived to be unfair.

Opposition MPs walked out of Parliament in protest, causing the debate to wrap up hours earlier than expected on the fourth day.

The censure debate focused on controversial issues - from graft allegations, the sluggish economy which last year saw the gross domestic product (GDP) grow only 2.4 per cent, and also the handling of the coronavirus outbreak, among other things.

But with the walkout, opposition targets - including Mr Prawit and Mr Anupong - were spared from being grilled. Mr Prawit for his unusual wealth and Mr Anupong for importing waste from abroad.

Even without the opposition boycott, the government's win was expected, with its numbers increasing in Parliament.

Since its formation in July last year, the government coalition has gained more seats through by-election victories and opposition MPs switching sides.

From a razor-thin majority of 251 seats in the 500-member Lower House, the government of Mr Prayut now has 273 seats.

Meanwhile, the opposition has weakened significantly, even more so after last week's dissolution of the second-biggest party Future Forward.

Eleven MPs, who were executives of the now-defunct party, have been disqualified and banned from politics for 10 years, while at least nine others have since defected to the Bhum Jai Thai Party headed by Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

The opposition now has 215 seats.

Although the government cannot be defeated in Parliament, the censure debate could have led to Cabinet shakeups.

Those receiving fewer votes like Mr Thamanat, considered by analysts as the weakest link because of his four-year imprisonment in Australia in the 1990s for drug trafficking, could be replaced, said Dr Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political science professor at Sukhothai Thammathirat University.

The censure debate presented a rare opportunity for MPs to question top officials, most of whom are in power after the 2014 coup.

The main focus was on alleged ties top officials have with big business corporations, and government policies deemed favourable to the businesses.

During the debate, Mr Prayut was criticised for leading the 2014 coup, for which he defended, saying it was necessary to restore peace and order amid massive demonstrations against the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

However, MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, who was with the Future Forward party, drew the most interest with his exposure of a government budget allocation for cyber warfare against activists working for peace in the country's deep south.

The south has been plagued by violence that has left 7,000 people dead in the past 15 years.

While the censure debate was closely watched, Dr Yuttaporn said it had less impact on local politics compared to anti-government movements in public, such as the current wave of student protests at dozens of universities and high schools across the country.

"People are now more interested in politics outside Parliament. The opposition MPs would make more waves if they join the movements. Parliamentary politics is now lagging behind," the academic said.

While the Prayut administration has survived the no-confidence motion, he said it may struggle should anti-government movements grow stronger.

It could force some parties away from the government coalition and leave the pro-military powerhouse Palang Pracharath Party, which only has 118 seats, in a precarious position.

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