Thailand Prime Minister Wins Confidence Vote After Frenzied Rumors

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha won 264 votes in the House of Representatives against 208 no confidence votes Saturday

(AP Photo/Sompong Sonnak)

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has won a confidence vote in Parliament after a frenzy of speculation over the makeup of the ruling coalition.

Rumors his own political allies might try to unseat him had recently overshadowed harsh criticism from the opposition about his government’s coronavirus response.

Prayuth won 264 votes in the House of Representatives against 208 no confidence votes Saturday.

Little attention was given to the details of the opposition's harsh accusations that Prayuth’s administration had botched the coronavirus response, countenanced corruption and mismanaged the economy.

Thai media were instead abuzz with rumors that the secretary-general of the ruling, military-backed Palang Pracharath party, which put together the coalition government that named Prayuth prime minister two years ago, was leading the effort to unseat him and pull the main opposition Pheu Thai party into the coalition.

Nonetheless, Prayuth and his colleagues are expected to prevail by winning a majority in the House of Representatives, which currently has 482 members.

What lent some credibility to the rumors is the dark reputation of the Palang Pracharath secretary-general, Thammanat Prompao, who is deputy agriculture minister in Prayuth’s Cabinet despite being convicted in Australia in the 1990s for involvement in heroin smuggling. He is held in higher regard as a political power broker who can turn out the vote in northern Thailand.

There was no public confirmation of the rumors, which by Thursday included an accusation that Prayuth’s side was paying large sums to ensure lawmakers’ support — an accusation he flatly denied. “Everyone came to greet me. As I hardly met them, they just came to give me the support. I would not do such nonsense thing (paying money),” he told the opposition in Parliament.

At the same time, street protests have been pressuring Prayuth to step down. Pro-democracy activists have been seeking his resignation since last year and stepped up their efforts in recent weeks. Major, though not huge, rallies were held this past week in defiance of limitations on the size of public gatherings as a virus-fighting measure.

Prayuth and his government have survived two previous no-confidence debates since he was named prime minister after a 2019 general election. But he is now seen as vulnerable due to his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, particularly its failure to secure timely and adequate supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.

He faced no such challenges when he was junta chief and prime minister in a military regime installed after he staged a coup as army commander in 2014, toppling an elected government.

The other Cabinet members targeted this time were Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob from the Bhumjai Thai Party, Labor Minister Suchat Chomklin and Digital Economy Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn from Palang Pracharath, and Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on from the Democrat Party.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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