Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is set to face a no-confidence vote this week as opposition lawmakers target his government for its alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak amid a renewed push by pro-democracy activists for the premier’s ouster and monarchy reforms.
The opposition began grilling Prayut and nine of his Cabinet members as a four-day debate got under way that will culminate with a vote likely on Saturday. While the government is expected to survive the vote like it did a year ago, the debate may determine the future of some of the ministers as parties begin shifting focus to 2023 general elections, according to Punchada Sirivunnabood, an expert in Thai politics and an associate professor at Mahidol University near Bangkok.
“The government has enough lawmakers to be in a safe position, but what’s more important is what’s being said in parliament and how they’re voted,” Punchada said, adding that ministers who received fewer votes from the ruling coalition will likely be replaced in the coming months. “Political parties from both sides will use this opportunity to show the work they’ve done to their support base, and some opposition members will use it to attack the government similar to what’s going on in the streets.”
Pro-democracy groups have returned to the streets after a short hiatus and vowed to intensity their campaign calling for Prayut’s resignation, a rewriting of the constitution and monarchy reform. More street rallies are planned this week after some activists clashed with the police during demonstrations organized to protest the detention of four key leaders last week.
Prayut, a coup leader-turned-premier, said he’s “ready to listen and to clarify any issues raised” during the censure debate in parliament but appealed to the protesters to desist from mass gatherings.
“Let’s leave the process to the parliament. The government will defend its position in the debate,” Prayut told reporters on Monday. “Protests won’t be good for the country at this time when we’re facing COVID-19 and many issues. We shouldn’t create more conflict.”
While some opposition lawmakers may want to discuss monarchy reform, the government is likely to stonewall such attempts which could potentially escalate the protest movement, according to Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand. “The debate is going to show the government’s determination to maintain the existing power structure,” he said.
Pheu Thai, the nation’s largest opposition party, has said it will focus on “the government’s mismanagement” and its COVID-19 response, which has caused “damage to the country.” “Under Prayut’s government, the economy has collapsed and people are suffering more than during any previous governments,” party leader Sompong Amornvivat said in the parliament on Tuesday.
The pandemic took a toll on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, which contracted 6.1% last year, the worst performance since the Asian financial crisis. The National Economic and Social Development Council also lowered its 2021 growth forecast to 2.5% to 3.5%, from 3.5% to 4.5% estimated in November.
Opposition lawmakers kicked off the debtate on Tuesday, questioning Prayut on issues ranging from budget allocation to the alleged corruption under his government. Some of the ministers facing the debate this week include Deputy Premier Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Premier and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob.
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