BANGKOK — “I abstain from voting,” announced Siripong Angkasakulkiat. Then he wai-ed his fellow MPs, sat down, and cried.
Siripong of Bhumjaithai party on Wednesday night defied his party’s entry into the pro-junta coalition by abstaining from voting in a parliamentary session that ultimately elected junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha to continue on as Thailand’s 29th prime minister.
Siripong was the only MP to abstain from voting, in a system where MPs are expected to vote with the party whip or face disciplinary action.
“Siripong was the bravest MP in parliament tonight,” Future Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Thanathong Juangroongruangkit said after he lost to Prayuth with a vote count of 244 to 500.
Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul said that Siripong gave no warning that he intended to abstain.
“It’s just one vote, so our votes weren’t broken. It’s the MP’s right…I can’t expect all 50 people to think the same,” Anutin said. “It’s actually kind of beautiful. I didn’t force anyone. Everyone can use their own discretion.”
“Maybe it was an impulse decision,” mused the leader of Bhumjaithai, a party that emerged as a key swing party after the March election.
Though Siripong’s abstention caught Anutin by surprise, Siripong had indicated in a December interview with Matichon discomfort with Bhumjaithai’s then ambiguous stance towards Prayuth’s prime ministerial bid.
“I won’t have it. If I don’t vote against the party whip, then I’ll call in sick” he said, when asked whether he expected to be part of the governing coalition.
The other two abstentions – from Lower House Speaker Chuan Leekpai and Senate Speaker Pornpetch Wichitcholchai – were per tradition. PM contender Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was also barred from casting his ballot due to a court ruling that has suspended his MP status.
Siripong, an MP for Sisaket province, was formerly a member of the late PM Banharn Silp-archa’s Chart Thai party. For the March election, Siripong joined the Chart Thai Pattana party, a reincarnation of Banharn’s party, before resigning due to differences and moving to Bhumjaithai in October.
Siripong gained 44 percent of votes in District 1 of Sisaket with 46,797 votes, beating the Pheu Thai candidate by more than 9,000 votes.
The 42-year-old, also known by his nickname “Sia [Boss] Tohng”, is well known in lower Isaan as a construction and real estate mogul who backed the popular “Tai Baan The Series” films.