BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Saturday (July 23), emerging on top in his last major test ahead of a general election due within 11 months.
The 68-year-old former army chief, in power since a coup he led in 2014, secured the required votes to guarantee his place as premier until his term ends in March.
Mr Prayut received 256 votes in favour and 206 against, with nine abstentions. The opposition needed more than 239 of the 477 parliamentary votes to oust him.
Ten other Cabinet members also defeated the censure motion.
“During the censure debate in the past few days, the issues raised by the opposition contain some incorrect information, and the government has used this opportunity to clarify things,” said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.
“Now that the censure debate is completed we urged the opposition to work with us for the people and the country,” he added.
The prime minister and the 10 Cabinet members underwent four days of grilling live on television from an opposition that accused them of corruption and economic mismanagement, in an effort to discredit the ruling 17-party coalition before the next polls.
It was the fourth time Mr Prayut’s performance was put to a vote since he was chosen by the House to stay on as prime minister in 2019, following an election the opposition said was held under rules designed to keep him in power.
Mr Prayut has rejected that assertion.
Political analysts saw the censure motion as a move by the opposition to court public support ahead of the next election.
The survival of Mr Prayut and his ministers cleared uncertainty about the fate of the 2023 fiscal budget Bill, which is crucial to ensuring the recovery of an economy that has been lagging behind its regional peers.
Lawmakers are set to reconvene to deliberate the budget Bill in second and third readings next month.
Mr Prayut had been expected to survive the vote, even as he faces challenges in the last months before the next election.
He has given no indication of when an election will be called.
Mr Prayut, who will complete eight years as premier next month, has seen a steady decline in popularity.
In the latest independent opinion poll, Mr Prayut trailed significantly behind Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced to flee following a coup in 2006.
“We know that in Parliament we cannot compete. But we have faith in the people because we did not lose and the deciding factor will be the election,” the leader of the opposition bloc Mr Chonlanan Srikaew told reporters.
Youth-led protest groups that emerged in July 2020 to challenge the government gathered in front of Parliament through the censure debate and held a parallel vote of no-confidence that resulted in 16,690 votes against the government and only 251 in favour.
The baht has lost more than 9 per cent of its value this year, tumbling this week to a fresh 2006 low to become one of the worst performers among emerging markets.
Thailand is also struggling to rein in inflation, which has accelerated to a 14-year high.