11 July 2024

Promoting cronyism, favouring big businesses and being incompetent.  These were  among charges levelled by the opposition against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on the first day of the censure debate on Monday.

Even his temperament – his often outbursts in front of the media in particular – was also included by his critics in the list of reasons why he doesn’t deserve in to be in office a day longer.

Sompong Amornwiwat, leader of the main opposition Pheu Thai Party who kicked off the 11-hour debate, described Prayut as a failure in every aspect.

“As a general, he might have had experience in military affairs but he knows nothing about running the country,” he said in his opening salvo.

Besides being attacked for incompetency and mismanagement, Prayut was also accused of promoting cronyism and currying favour with big businesses.  Opposition MPs who took the floor alleged that many of Prayut government’s policies were designed to benefit only major business conglomerates.

Yutthaphong Charasathien, Maha Sarakham MP of Pheu Thai Party, alleged that the Prayut government granted favour to a business conglomerate by extending its contract to manage the Queen Sirikit National Conventional Centre for 50 years without bidding.

He hinted that the contract extension was a favour returned for the conglomerate whose subsidiary bought a piece of land in Bang Bon area in Bangkok, from Prayut’s father back in 2013 at an inflated price of 600 million baht.

Yutthaphong claimed the two deals represented a clear example of cronyism under the leadership of Prayut who ruled without checks-and-balances after seizing power in the 2014 military coup.

Prayut, however, was quick to rebut the charges.  He insisted that land deal was sealed at least a year before the coup. “It was a deal done by my father and I had nothing to do with it,” he said.

“Are you saying that I would return favour to the person who bought the land? How would I know back then that one day I would become prime minister?” Prayut asked.

Prayut also said the price paid for the land was reasonable given its location and the fact that at present value the land could be sold for as much as 800 million baht.

Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana also came to Prayut’s defence by explaining that the decision to extend the contract for the NCC Management and Development, a subsidiary of a business empire owned by Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, was made during the Yingluck government.  The deal had also been thoroughly vetted by the Council of State and the Attorney General before it was finally approved by the Prayut government.

Despite the incessant attacks on him, Prayut managed to put on a calm face.  If the opposition had expected to provoke a furious reaction from him with their accusations, it must have been disappointed.

As he took the podium to rebut the charges, Prayut managed to project a big smile – something uncharacteristic of him when he is under pressure or attack. “I am a good-natured person. I am not offended,” he said smilingly, drawing laughter from the chamber.

And toward the end of another rebuttal late into the night, Prayut politely thanked his listeners – and again with a big smile.

The censure debate resumed Tuesday morning and will last until Thursday, with a confidence vote taken the following day.  And Prayut can be sure that the attacks on him in the following days will be no less vicious

It remains to be seen whether the former general known for his tendency to shoot from the hip will be able to keep his cool and his smiling face.