Thai PM Prayut skirts debate on oath-taking amid grilling by MPs

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaking yesterday during the general debate session inside the chambers of the Thai Parliament. He spent 30 minutes defending his economic policies and clarifying the sources of funding for a US$10 billion stimulus p
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaking yesterday during the general debate session inside the chambers of the Thai Parliament. He spent 30 minutes defending his economic policies and clarifying the sources of funding for a US$10 billion stimulus package.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Thai opposition MPs called for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's resignation yesterday following a debate in Parliament where they grilled him for hours on an incomplete oath of office taken in July, to no avail.

Mr Prayut left six hours into the session without addressing the issue after listening to MPs rail at him. The opposition said he showed disregard for the country's Constitution by omitting to uphold it in his oath in front of the King.

Instead, Mr Prayut spent 30 minutes defending his economic policies and clarifying the sources of funding for the US$10 billion (S$13.7 billion) stimulus package announced last month to spur growth.

"Today, I'd like people to have confidence in the Thai economy. If we don't, who will?" he said.

"I'm much less fierce now. I love everybody. Do we need to grill each other till death?" he added, in an apparent reference to his famous combativeness in answering reporters' questions and responding to critics.

The debate went ahead despite last week's decision by the Constitutional Court to decline hearing the MPs' case against Mr Prayut and his Cabinet. The court said the swearing-in ceremony on July 16 took place in front of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and was outside its jurisdiction.

Mr Prayut, a 65-year-old former junta leader who won the March general election, came under fire when it emerged that he had failed to utter the complete oath of office before the King and Queen, raising questions of whether he planned to stage another coup.

The opposition argued that the omission to uphold the Constitution, and the addition of the word "forever" at the end of the vow breached the Constitution.

 
 
 
 

"The Prime Minister is ruling as if there is no Constitution. He is perhaps too used to being the NCPO leader and exercising his absolute power," said Ms Jiraporn Sindhuprai, a lawmaker from Pheu Thai Party, referring to the National Council for Peace and Order, essentially a junta.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam defended the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, saying: "This is a matter between the government and the King, and the King has already endorsed the Cabinet."

Although Mr Prayut managed to evade the essential question, the day-long debate was one of the rare occasions when he has been questioned and criticised in Parliament.

But since it involved no votes and had no legal consequences, the pro-military government need not worry about its razor-thin majority of 251 seats in the 500-member Lower House.

Analysts viewed the debate as the opposition carrying out its duty to check the government.

"At least going ahead with the parliamentary session succeeds in dragging Prayut's name through the mud. It besmirches him," said Dr Paul Chambers, a political science professor at Naresuan University in northern Thailand.

The Prime Minister caught another break yesterday when the Constitutional Court ruled that he was not a state official as head of the military junta and was thus eligible for office, following a petition seeking to disqualify him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2019, with the headline 'Prayut skirts debate on oath-taking amid grilling by MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe