Thai PM Prayuth wins confidence vote amid criticism over virus

Thai PM Prayuth wins confidence vote amid criticism over virus
Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha talks to reporters at parliament (AP)

Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has won votes of confidence in parliament, helping to steady his government after it was heavily criticised over its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Prayuth still faces pressure from street protests calling for him to step down.

Pro-democracy activists opposing his policies have been seeking his resignation since last year, and have also stepped up their efforts in recent weeks.

Rallies were held this past week in defiance of limits on public gatherings as a virus-fighting measure, and another was scheduled for later on Saturday, with organisers vowing to continue until Mr Prayuth is out of office.

Thailand’s deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, left, also survived a vote alongside Mr Prayth (Public Relations Dept/AP)

Arriving at parliament ahead of the voting on the censure motions against him and five members of his cabinet, Mr Prayuth had declared to reporters: “I am confident every day.”

Asked if there will be a cabinet reshuffle soon, he said: “It’s not time yet.”

Mr Prayuth prevailed by a comfortable margin in the Thai house of representatives, with support from 264 legislators showing only a few defections from the 271 members of his ruling coalition, despite intense rumours of a plot among them to force him out.

There were 208 votes in support of the motion, 34 short of the 242 simple majority of the 482 total members the opposition needed to succeed.

During four previous days of debate, little attention had been given to the details of the opposition’s harsh accusations that Mr Prayuth’s administration had botched the coronavirus response, countenanced corruption and mismanaged the economy.

Anti-government protesters rally in Bangkok (AP)

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

There was no public confirmation of the rumours, which by Thursday included an accusation that Mr Prayuth’s side met legislators to pay them large sums to ensure their 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 a nonsense thing (paying money),” he said.

Mr Prayuth and his government survived two other no-confidence debates since the 2019 general election.

A protester displays the three-finger symbol of resistance in the Thai capital (AP)

But he was 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 with unrestrained powers in a military regime installed after he staged a coup as army commander in 2014, toppling an elected government.

The other cabinet members targeted with no-confidence motions also easily survived Saturday’s votes.

They were deputy prime minister and public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul and transport minister Saksayam Chidchob from the Bhumjai Thai Party, labour minister Suchat Chomklin and digital economy minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn from Palang Pracharath, and agriculture minister Chalermchai Sri-on from the Democrat Party.

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