BANGKOK — The first seven hours of parliament’s debate on Wednesday turned out to be the first de facto censure debate against junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha’s regime in years.
MPs and Senators assembled at a makeshift parliament in a rented auditorium to decide on the country’s next prime minister. Much of the debate, however, was spent arguing over whether Prayuth – who dissolved the last elected parliament in the 2014 coup – is a leader who brought peace to Thailand, or a usurper ill-suited to serve another term as the prime minister.
True to a typical Thai parliamentary gathering, the quarrel was riddled with metaphors, accusations, and indignant protests from MPs whenever criticisms were leveled against them. One lawmaker likened the state of the country to a broken family that requires Prayuth’s guiding hand.
“It’s like a husband and wife fought and the son doesn’t study and is addicted to drugs,” said Waipot Apornrat, a former Redshirt who has defected to the pro-junta Phalang Pracharath Party. “The elderly like Prayuth, and we want to country to be able to move forward.”
“I was accused of supporting dictatorship. I am for democratic dictatorship, not for fake democracy,” said junta-appointed Senator Seri Suwanpanond in a bizarre remark widely discussed online.
Betraying his awareness of the numerous gaffes and scandals in which Prayuth has often found himself, a Chartthai Pattana MP pleaded with his fellow parliamentarians to see the junta leader’s commitment to the nation.
“He may not be graceful,” Nattawut Prasertsuwan said. “But he will enable the country to move forward.”
“Farmers are starving!” Phalang Pracharath MP Veerakorn Kamprakob summed up his case for Prayuth’s second term.
Meanwhile on the anti-junta bench, Pheu Thai Party MP Chonnan Srikaew lashed out, “Prayuth ruled by his own law, because there was no rule of law. Prayuth destroyed the rights and liberty of the Thai people.”
Another Pheu Thai MP went as far as to accuse Prayuth of committing treason when he seized power in 2014.
“Prayuth committed treason. He is the leader of those who overthrew the constitution,” Suthin Klangsaeng thundered. “Naming him prime minister is like making someone who set fire to a temple the abbot of that temple.”
Future Forward Party MP Piyabutr Saengkanokkul also urged parliament to “thwart an attempt by the [junta] to perpetuate its power”, lest Thailand descend into a violent confrontation like Bloody May in 1992.
Such open challenges to the military’s grip on power had not been seen since Prayuth ousted the elected government in 2014 and banned any form of public resistance to his rule. The interim parliament, whose members were handpicked by Prayuth himself, served largely as a rubber stamp for the junta’s proposed legislation.
Although the military-backed Phalang Pracharath has nominated Prayuth for the PM seat, he was nowhere near the assembly today. The general attended a conference on human trafficking while the lawmakers bickered. Earlier this week, his deputy insisted there was no need for the junta leader to address parliament.
Today’s parliamentary session has yet to reach a decision on the next prime minister. It remains unclear when the vote will be called.