Thai protests outside parliament after PM Prayut survives no-confidence vote

Pro-democracy protesters hold up signs outside the Thai Parliament as they take part in an anti-government rally in Bangkok on Feb 20, 2021.
Pro-democracy protesters hold up signs outside the Thai Parliament as they take part in an anti-government rally in Bangkok on Feb 20, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Thailand’s parliament after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and nine ministers survived a parliamentary no-confidence motion on Saturday (Feb 20) after a four-day censure debate.

Over 1,000 protesters rallied outside the parliament gates. Organisers gave assurances the protest would not turn violent.

“We want a peaceful protest,” protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul told reporters after speaking to the police. There is no reason for police to break up this demonstration.”

“Police duty is to maintain order,” he said when asked if there would be use of force.

“Some 4,000 officers have been prepared,” police deputy spokesman Kissana Pattanacharoen said, adding that the rallies were violating an emergency decree to control the coronavirus outbreak.

The no-confidence motion against the premier was rejected by 272 lawmakers, while 206 supported it, according to a televised broadcast of the procedure in Parliament.

“It was a disappointment, but expected,” protest leader Attapon Buapat said.

Opposition lawmakers have taken aim at what they say is a slow government roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine and at its economic policies, vowing to continue investigating.

“We’ve opened a wound and now will pour salt on it,” Pita Limjaroenrat, head of the Move Forward Party told reporters after the vote.

"Although they all survived the votes, some of the ministers received fewer votes than others, and that points to a reshuffle in the next few months," said Associate Professor Punchada Sirivunnabood, a Thai political analyst from Mahidol University near Bangkok.

Prayuth, a former chief of the armed forces, overthrew an elected prime minister in 2014 and stayed in office after a 2019 election that his rivals said was badly flawed. The government has said the elections were free and fair.

However, the government’s win suggests the ruling coalition would last its full term, she said.

The defeat of the second no-confidence vote since the 2019 election will allow coup leader-turned-premier Prayut to continue his government’s efforts in limiting the impact of a second wave of Covid-19 infections that is threatening to derail a nascent economic recovery.

“The debate went well, but the government must continue its work,” Prayuth said in a podcast after the vote. “I would like to ask all Thais to work together to bring the country forward.”

The government’s victory comes as pro-democracy protests returned after a lull brought on by a second outbreak of Covid-19. 

Protesters gathered at Parliament on Friday in anticipation of the vote with more demonstrations planned for Saturday. 

Earlier this month, protesters demanding the release of activists scuffled with police. 

Youth-led protests last year reached hundreds of thousands, occupying major commercial intersections in Bangkok and spreading to university campuses across the country.