Thai PM Prayut faces no-confidence vote as protests gather steam

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha 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.

Mr Prayut and nine of his Cabinet members will be grilled by the opposition during a four-day debate that will culminate with a vote likely on Saturday (Feb 20).

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.

A Thai pro-democracy protester at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, on Feb 13, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

“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,” Mr 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 Mr 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 organised to protest the detention of four key leaders last week.

Mr 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,” Mr Prayut told reporters on Monday (Feb 15).

“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.”

The pandemic took a toll on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, which contracted 6.1 per cent last year, the worst performance since the Asian financial crisis. The National Economic and Social Development Council also lowered its 2021 growth forecast to 2.5-3.5 per cent, from 3.5-4.5 per cent estimated in November.

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, Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob.

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