Thai opposition objects to emergency troop transfer to King

A photo taken on July 28 shows military cadets outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok to celebrate the 67th birthday of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
A photo taken on July 28 shows military cadets outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok to celebrate the 67th birthday of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Opposition members of Thailand's Parliament yesterday objected to an emergency decree transferring two army units to the command of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, with one politician saying it did not follow the laws of the constitutional monarchy.

The discord heightened tensions in the South-east Asian country's transition from military rule, in which pro-army and royalist parties have portrayed their opponents as a threat to the monarchy.

This is the first time that lawmakers have publicly challenged a legal procedure related to royal affairs.

King Vajiralongkorn was crowned in May as Thailand's fourth constitutional monarch, after taking the throne following the death of his revered father in 2016.

A leader of the opposition Future Forward Party said the royal troop decree, which took effect on Oct 1, inappropriately used an emergency provision of the Constitution to bypass Parliament, although it was yesterday confirmed by a majority of lawmakers.

The decree transferred command of the Bangkok-based 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments from the military chain of command to the King's Royal Security Command.

Future Forward's secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said there was no immediate emergency that justified the decree.

He accused Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of continuing to act like a military junta leader.

Mr Prayut, who as army chief overthrew an elected government in 2014, took office as a civilian prime minister in July after his pro-army party won disputed elections that the opposition said were structured to ensure continued army dominance.

 
 

Future Forward, which came in third in the March elections, said the government must follow the Constitution. But a lawmaker from the pro-establishment Democrat Party defended the decree.

"Thailand is a unique kingdom," said Mr Peerapan Saleerattavipak. "The monarchy is a representation of national security so in the kingdom of Thailand, we could not separate national security from the monarchy."

A vote later confirmed the decree by 366 votes to 70 with two abstentions. All the votes against it were from Future Forward.

King Vajiralongkorn has moved to consolidate his personal authority since taking the throne in 2016.

In July 2017, the military-appointed legislative assembly amended a 1936 law to give the king full control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the crown's multibillion-dollar holdings. Public criticism of the king or his family is illegal in Thailand, with insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2019, with the headline 'Thai opposition objects to emergency troop transfer to King'. Print Edition | Subscribe