Thai PM faces uncertain outcome as censure debate kicks off today

The four day censure debate kicks off today, with the Thai PM and his cabinet ministers, targeted for censure, confident they will emerge unscathed. The actual no confidence motion will be put to the vote on Saturday after four days of drilling from opposition MPs.

The weekly Cabinet meeting was moved back to yesterday to accommodate the week of parliamentary debate.

The Thai prime minister has survived three other no confidence motions during his tenure at the top job. It will also be the last that can be scheduled with an election having to be called before March 2023.

The fourth censure motion brought against him and his government also has the least predictable outcome with minor parties in the coalition openly canvassing votes against Prayut this time. The debate also follows a disastrous showing of Palang Pracharat candidates in both the recent Bangkok governor election and a by-election in northern Thailand 10 days ago.

It’s been a fluid few months with evictions and walkouts from the 17-party coalition. 16 MPs from the Setthakij Thai Party pulled out of the coalition just last week, vowing to vote against PM Prayut and the cabinet ministers targeted in the censure.

In the last censure debate in 2021, former deputy agriculture minister (and former four year inmate of an Australian prison over heroin trafficking convictions) Thammanat Prompau, was ousted from his ministerial position and the inner circle, along with 20 other members of his faction, for plotting against the PM to vote with the opposition.

Now, as leader of the Setthakij Thai Party, Thammanat has openly defied the PM and indicated his MPs will vote with the opposition in this censure debate. Thammanat has been mentored by deputy PM and former Prayut stalwart Prawit Wongsuwan. Thammanat wants to see Prawit fill in as caretaker PM in the lead up to next year’s general elections.

Another 16 MPs, under the moniker “Group of 16” including members of the PM’s own Palang Pracharat Party, are also in doubt, with many of the MPs openly displaying their dismay at the current situation.

But one of the deputy PMs, and current public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul says his Bhumjaithai Party will continue to show full support for the current PM and Cabinet. The Bhumjaithai Party won 51 seats in the March 2019 election but has bolstered its ranks to 60 following defections from other parties. But Anutin’s power base could command up to 80 votes that he could call on if the vote became tight.

There is also lingering bitterness between the two former Army buddies, Prayut and Palang Pracaharat party leader Prawit Wongsuwan. But both men have stated their support for each ahead of today’s proceedings.

Deputy PM and veteran politician Wissanu Kreangam says the opposition parties will need at least 239 MPs to vote against the PM. He claims, as the numbers stack up leading into today’s debates, that they only have 206 votes.

But PM Prayut will be best served by not just surviving the censure motion, but moving into the last phase of the current government with a strong parliamentary mandate. He is making sure his coalition survives the debate intact and has instructed his coalition partners to get ready for the questions.

“I believe all of them can answer questions regarding all issues during the debate.”

But he also warned opposition MPs to be careful during the debate not to cause damage to Thailand’s reputation.

“Please use utmost caution during this debate because we are not in a normal situation. We’re in a global crisis. Please also take into account foreign situations in ASEAN and other regions.

There are 45 hours allocated to the censure debate while 30 of those hours will be dedicated to questioning the PM and his Cabinet about their handling of the pandemic in Thailand and the rushed decriminalisation of cannabis to appease their Bhumjaithai coalition partners.

SOURCES: National Thailand | Bangkok Post

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