6 June 2024

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to bear the brunt of heavy opposition attacks during a general debate targeting the Cabinet on Wednesday and Thursday (Feb 15-16).

PM Prayut will have to fend off attacks without the usual protection from MPs of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party – which nominated him as its sole PM candidate for the 2019 election – after he defected to a new party called Ruam Thai Sang Chart (United Thai Nation).

However, observers also view this as a good opportunity for the embattled government leader to launch a PR push ahead of the next election.

The upcoming general debate, without a vote, will be the final grilling of the government before the House of Representatives’ four-year term expires on March 23.

The current parliamentary session ends on February 28 and an extraordinary session is unlikely as political parties are now focused on the next general election, scheduled for May 7 unless there is a House dissolution.

The opposition submitted its motion for a general debate in December, accusing the government of failing to fulfil its vow to implement policies since taking office in 2019.

The opposition cited Article 152 of the Constitution, which states: “Members of the House of Representatives comprising not less than one-tenth of the total number of existing MPs have the right to submit a motion for a general debate to inquire about facts or recommend issues without a resolution to be passed.”

Pheu Thai Party and opposition leader Cholnan Srikaew announced that the debate would also allow opposition MPs to unmask “the good man” and cleanse Thailand of the “contamination” that person has caused. He was obviously referring to PM Prayut, who is often described as a “good man” by his supporters.

Chance to trumpet govt success

It is now almost certain that the prime minister will not seek to avoid the opposition’s onslaught by dissolving the House before the debate, as had been speculated by certain key opposition figures.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri last month quoted Prayut as saying that he was prepared to participate in the debate and that he was confident of answering all the questions posed by the opposition. The spokesman expected General Prayut to seize the opportunity to showcase his government’s achievements and tell the public what it has achieved, particularly regarding the administration’s 12 major policies.

It was agreed that opposition parties will be allocated 24 hours of the debate, while the government will get eight hours to defend itself.

The opposition has outlined a dozen issues based on the government’s major policies, with plans to also cover allegations of irregularities, cronyism, negligence, flawed management, and abuse of power.

Pheu Thai deputy leader Sutin Klungsang, who doubles as the opposition’s chief whip, said coalition politicians would find it difficult to offer satisfactory explanations to voters amid the barrage of allegations at the upcoming debate.

“People will lose faith in the government as the election approaches. The government will head for the election unable to staunch the bleeding,” he said.

Prayut in the crosshairs

In contrast with no-confidence debates, the opposition has not publicly identified the Cabinet ministers it will target, though political analysts agree that PM Prayut will be the most sought-after trophy for opposition MPs taking the floor.

But some analysts reckon the PM and other targeted ministers could turn the debate to their advantage if the opposition fails to come up with sufficient substance to back its claims.

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of King Prajadhipok Institute’s Office of Innovation for Democracy, warned that voters may see the debate as a mere opposition stunt to gain an upper hand in the polls if it fails to offer new allegations and/or damning evidence against targeted ministers.

“People will focus on how Prayut responds, and the tables may turn in his favor if he manages to answer the opposition’s allegations well,” the analyst said. For instance, corruption claims by the opposition could offer Prayut an opportunity to explain how he is tackling the issue.

Fear of lack of quorum

A major concern for the government is whether the coalition Bhumjaithai Party will attend the debate in full force. Some observers point to the possibility of the party trying to “get even” with fellow coalition partners and the opposition for the mass absence of their MPs that led to the collapse of recent parliamentary meetings deliberating Bhumjaithai’s cannabis and hemp bill.

Bhumjaithai MP Siripong Angkasakulkiat said the party would attend the debate if “beneficial issues” are raised.

“But if old issues are repeated for political advantage, Bhumjaithai will not help form a quorum,” he added.

Bhumjaithai spokesman Paradorn Prissananantakul agreed with Siripong, as the pair appeared together in a video clip released on Saturday through the party’s social media channels.

A boycott of MPs could also be a weapon of choice for the opposition, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam warned last week. He suggested that targeted ministers should respond to the opposition MPs’ allegations soon after they are made at the debate, as opposition MPs might deprive them of the chance to reply by not turning up at the meeting and allowing it to collapse after making their damaging accusations.

By Thai PBS World’ Political Desk