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General Prayut returns as prime minister

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General Prayut returns as prime minister

By KAS CHANWANPEN 
THE NATION

 

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Some of the Thai members of the House raise their hands to support the leader of the Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (not pictured), in pole position to be the new prime minister. // EPA-EFE PHOTO

 

General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected as prime minister in a Parliamentary vote late on Wednesday night after more than 10 hours of intense debate.

 

Prayut returned as PM for a second term after a five-year term since the 2014 coup, beating his opponent Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with 500 to 244 votes. Three MPs abstained from voting and one was on a sick leave.

 

Thanathorn did not vote because he has been suspended from his MP duties, and neither did former Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who gave up his party-list MP seat on Wednesday morning.

 

His victory came due to support from nearly 20 political parties and the 250-member Senate.

 

The general is Thailand's 29th prime minister.

 

Junta chief earlier got a taste of parliamentary politics yesterday when he was grilled during a marathon debate in Parliament before a vote to install him as the new prime minister. 

 

The vote to choose between coup leader General Prayut and anti-junta politician Thanathorn Juangroon-gruangkit for the top government post was delayed until 9pm after a day of heated and intense debates. 

 

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Neither of the two contenders were present in Parliament. While Prayut kept himself confined to his office in Government House in the morning and later at home in the afternoon, Thanathorn expressed his views before the media from outside the meeting room.

 

The future PM should admit that the country faces a lot of tough problems and make the changes to move the country forward, said Thanathorn, who is the leader of the Future Forward Party.

 

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“I was born when Thailand was at the same stage of development as South Korea, but now Vietnam, which joined the economic race much later, looks set to leap ahead of Thailand,” Thanathorn said, adding “I’m ready to lead Thailand into the future.”

 

Earlier, lower house speaker Chuan Leekpai had promised he would allow the MPs and senators to debate extensively on any related issues, including on whether the two candidates had the qualifications to be the prime minister.

 

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Those opposed to Prayut returning as premier focused on his leadership of the coup in 2014 and his status as a state authority. They argued that his involvement in a coup showed his lack of faith in democracy and the constitutional monarchy while his continuation as a state authority was against the law that disqualifies state officials from running for PM.

 

Pheu Thai Party frontbencher in Parliament, Cholanan Srikaeo, began the session by arguing that Prayut had staged a coup, which was strongly against the Constitution and a deviation from democracy. He should also be disqualified because he was a state official, Cholanan said.

 

The politician warned that Prayut would lead the country into crisis and failure because of his bureaucracy-centred style of administration.

 

The seven parties in the anti-junta bloc could not approve Prayut to be the premier, Cholanan said.

 

Other politicians in the bloc argued similarly, reiterating Prayut was not qualified because he was obviously a state official whose pay cheque came from the taxpayers though the Ombudsman had already cleared Prayut.

 

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However, Prayut’s backers – mostly junta-appointed senators and Phalang Pracharat MPs – argued that the general had already been checked by independent agencies and cleared to be the PM candidate.

 

Others also defended Prayut’s role as coup leader, arguing that the circumstances in 2014 had made it necessary for the Army to intervene. Had Prayut not staged a coup, the political turmoil would not have ended, they stressed. 

 

The two blocs also clashed several times when debating the 2014 coup. At one point, senator Seri Suwanpanont admitted that he would rather support a democratic dictatorship rather than a fake democracy.

 

Meanwhile, Thanathorn, the other PM candidate, was hardly discussed. Those opposed to his bid only expressed concern that he could not take the job because of his current suspension from the MP duty following the Constitutional Court order in a case related to his alleged shareholding in a media company.

 

Thanathorn, however, was also present at the election venue, ready to give a speech on his vision for the country. 

 

The house, however, did not allow that as Phalang Pracharat MPs argued that there was no such provision in the regulations.

 

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Parliament confirms Thai coup leader Prayuth as prime minister

By Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um

 

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Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves as he leaves at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

 

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's new parliament confirmed military junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as civilian prime minister on Wednesday, five years after he seized power from an elected government while he was army chief.

 

The 500-244 vote came after a March 24 general election that opposition parties say was designed to extend and legitimise military dominance over government.

 

After a marathon day of debate, the now-retired army chief secured the 375 votes needed to become premier in a combined ballot by both houses of parliament, one of which was entirely appointed in a process controlled by the junta.

 

Prayuth - who was not present for the vote - easily defeated Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a charismatic political newcomer who was nominated by the opposition Democratic Front, which comprises seven parties that want to remove the military from politics.

 

Prayuth will now lead an unwieldy 19-party coalition government that has a slim majority in the lower House of Representatives, but could be vulnerable to defections and infighting.

 

Opposition lawmakers argued for hours that Prayuth was unfit for office.

 

"He (Prayuth) came to power in a coup, then comes in and completely changes the rules and conditions that allows him to stay on and transform himself into a prime minister candidate," said Chonlanan Srikaew of the opposition Pheu Thai party.

 

However, the electoral rules of the 2017 post-coup constitution made it nearly impossible for the opposition to overcome the 250 votes of the Senate.

 

And Prayuth's Palang Pracharat party said he deserved to stay in power for bringing an end to repeated paralysing street protests by opponents and supporters of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an earlier coup in 2006.

 

"Prayuth has stepped in to solve the conflict ... and showed a great deal of leadership. He has been decisive possibly more than other past leaders," said Palang Pracharat lawmaker Koranit Ngamsukonrattana.

 

The Democratic Front is led by Pheu Thai, which was ousted from power in 2014 and is allied to Thaksin, whose affiliated parties had until this year won every election since 2000.

 

In March, Pheu Thai won the most seats in the 500-seat elected House of Representatives. Prayuth's Palang Pracharat party came second and Thanathorn's Future Forward Party third.

 

After the preliminary results of the March election, the Democratic Front projected that it had won a majority in the House.

 

However, the election commission later announced a change in a seat-allocation formula that gave 10 small parties one seat each, mostly at the expense of Thanathorn's Future Forward Party. The 10 small parties joined Prayuth's alliance.

 

Uttama Savanayana, leader of Palang Pracharat, put a posting on his Facebook site after Wednesday's vote saying the party "will look after the people and continue to lead Thailand forward".

 

Thanathorn told reporters outside parliament that his party would continue to work to end military dominance.

"Today we did not lose. But because of the rules we have been robbed of victory," he said. "If we continue to go forward strongly, one day they will lose."

 

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-06-06
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