PM, opposition leader in showdown on first day of debate in Thai parliament
Opposition and Pheu Thai party leader Chonlanan Srikaew accused Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha today (Thursday) of being the root cause of all the pressing problems now facing Thailand, ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic slowdown, the high cost of living and the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) to the failure of political reform, the increase in household debt, unemployment, bureaucratic corruption and other issues.
He said that the best way to solve all these problems is for the prime minister to step aside and for a more capable person to take his place. Alternatively, the prime minister could dissolve parliament and hold a general election.
Taking the floor at the start of the two-day general debate, to “grill” the government, Chonlanan said that his role, as a “target pointer”, is to outline the flaws, failures and shortcomings of the government in the handling of a host of pressing issues, which will be followed by other opposition MPs who will add detail.
He explained that the opposition does not harbour any prejudice against the prime minister or his government, but wants to perform its duty as mandated by the Constitution.
On the issue of the high cost of living, the opposition leader accused the government of being responsible for making everything so expensive that most people are suffering, ranging from high pork prices to food and oil prices, plus the increase in household debt and growing unemployment.
These problems, he claimed, have been caused by the prime minister taking office undemocratically, through a military coup eight years ago, and his efforts to cling on to power through a tailor-made charter, designed to allow him to stay on while weakening the checks-and-balances mechanisms.
In his defence, the prime minister said his access to power is constitutional and almost all his current cabinet ministers are unrelated to the coup leaders.
He said the prices of pork and other consumer products have been falling recently because the government has taken several steps to deal with the problem, adding that household debt has been dealt with and employment is picking up steadily.
Exports are picking up and the growth rate for this year is projected to be about 4%.
“Wherever there is a problem, we will deal with it,” he said, as he maintained that his government’s objective is to work to make everyone happy.
Chonlanan accused the government of failures in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination program and questioned why the CCSA still exists.
The prime minister explained that many countries, like Thailand, in the initial stage of the pandemic, struggled to contain the virus and tried to procure vaccines, adding that Thailand has now procured enough vaccines for the people and is being recognised as the best performer in Asia for its success in containing the virus and its efficient health care system.
Chonlanan also accused the government of not just ignoring political reform, but of seeking to use its power to undermine the democratic system.
Rebutting Chonlanan’s accusation that his government has suspended the process of decentralisation to local administrative organizations for seven years, the prime minister said that his government has already allowed elections to be held in Provincial Administrative Organizations (PAO) and Tambon (sub-district) Administrative Organizations (TAO).
He also said that the government does not just want to decentralise administrative bodies, but wants to ensure that they can stand on their own feet, financially.
On the allegation that his government’s decision to issue an executive decree to impose control on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities, was to satisfy the European Union, the prime minister asked “What’s wrong with it when we try to legalise fishing activities?”
Chonlanan claimed that the tough measure has caused extensive damage to the Thai fishing industry, just to spare the seafood market in Europe.
Regarding the opposition’s suspicion that the government may have covered up the spread of African Swine Fever, also for the benefit of businesses with vested interests, the prime minister explained that ASF infections were limited to only some areas and it was unnecessary to declare the whole country an ASF epidemic zone.
Regarding alleged corruption in the disbursement of state funds, the prime minister told the opposition leader to provide evidence to support his accusation, as he insisted that he will never allow anyone in his government to get involved in corruption.
The prime minister added, nonetheless, that he holds no grudge against the opposition leader for making such accusation.