Prayuth Struggles to Keep His Cool as He Defends Gov’t Policies

PM Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks to parliament on July 25, 2019.

BANGKOK — The opposition has accused Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government policies of being too vague, and without any viable strategy to make them a reality.

The criticism came during the first of a two-day parliamentary session where the new government is announcing its core policies and parliamentarians debating their substance. It was the first time Gen. Prayuth has been confronted by an opposition in Parliament since he came to office five years ago. 

Leading the charge was Prachachart Party leader Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, who called the policies a bundle of wishlists that lack practicality and implementation. 

“There’s nothing in the policies. It’s vague,” Wan said. “They cannot be measured, be it quantitatively or qualitatively. They lack clear vision.” 

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โพสต์โดย วิทยุและโทรทัศน์รัฐสภา เมื่อ วันพฤหัสบดีที่ 25 กรกฎาคม 2019

In one of the highlights from today’s confrontation, Wan also dropped a bombshell claim that Prayuth revealed to him on the day of the coup in 2014 that he had been plotting the putsch for “three years.”

“Don’t you think about fighting me. You can’t win even if you fight. I’ve been planning this for three years,” Wan quoted Prayuth as saying in a meeting with him and other government officials moments after the general announced the takeover on May 22, 2014. 

Since Prayuth hatched his plot while an elected government was in power, Wan alleged, it’s impossible to have faith in Prayuth’s pledge in Parliament today to uphold democracy. 

“I am not confident. How can a coup maker uphold democracy? You tore the constitution to pieces [in the 2014 coup]. That’s definitely treason,” Wan said.

Sompong Amornviat, the newly installed leader of Pheu Thai Party, said he has no confidence either as the past five years under Prayuth have been “disastrous,” with Thailand falling behind other ASEAN countries in economic performance. 

 “I don’t see the government as having adequate potential… This is fake democracy or half dictatorship,” Sompong said.

Future Forward Party sec-gen Piyabutr Saengkanonkkul also chimed in that he has no confidence that the government can execute its policies because it has too many coalition partners and a razor-thin majority in the lower house. 

Piyabutr said it’s more likely that the government will merely use taxpayers’ money to inject cash handouts to the people before calling for the next elections.

But Democrat Party MP Korn Chatikavanij defended the government’s policies, saying Prayuth has taken the right step by vowing to take Thailand out of the middle-income trap, though the MP also wondered aloud how such an ambition could be achieved. 

Give Me Respect, Too

By 4pm, after facing unceasing fire from the opposition since the morning, Prayuth’s temper appeared to bubble to the surface.

In response to human rights concerns over counter-insurgency operations in the southern border region, Prayuth said MPs talk too much about human rights. 

“Using the word ‘human rights’ too much causes a lot of problems,” Prayuth shot back. “If they are arrested, we give them justice. If the officers committed wrongdoings, they are fired. The problem doesn’t come from the state. The state doesn’t shoot first, as long as the people don’t shoot.”

Prayuth also complained that he can never please all Thais on the Deep South issues. He also dismissed allegations that some suspects were tortured to death in military custody. 

“Are they watching too many movies?” Prayuth asked. 

He then complained about a lack of discipline in Thailand, noting that one foreign country canes people for chewing gum while in Thailand people ride motorcycles on footpaths without being punished. 

The general also took offense that only 4 million out of nearly 70 million Thais pay income tax.

“We don’t get tax from the poor except through VAT,” Prayuth said. 

The debate heated up to the point where an MP protested Prayuth’s shouting and speaking in a disrespectful tone. Another MP reminded Prayuth that Parliament is not a military base where the general can point his fingers and tell the lawmakers what do. 

“We are not your subordinates,” Future Forward MP Karom Polpornklang said. 

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan could also be seen advising Prayuth to calm his temper several times. 

To the challenges from the MPs, Prayuth – who wielded absolute power for five years as the junta leader – offered an apology.

“Give me respect, too. I’ve never looked at you as rank-and-file soldiers. If you were, I wouldn’t be behaving like this,” Prayuth said. “I apologize.”

The government policies include:

–  Economic growth with a focus on quality

–  Support self-sufficiency economy

–  Protect and venerate the monarchy 

–  Foster national unity

–  Promote patriotism so people will place national interests above personal gain

–  Crackdown on drugs

–  Promote local dialects

–  Engage constructively in regional and international arenas

–  Act as a center of ASEAN in promoting peace and progress

–  Taxing digital commerce

–  Support value-added agriculture

–  Support organic farming and reduce or end the use of pesticides

–  Promoting quality tourism and reduce trash and waste

–  Protect tourists particularly near the sea and river

–  Improve laws to facilitate e-commerce

–  Improve community market

–  Develop quality early childhood support

–  Attract educated Thais abroad back home

–  Draw foreign experts to Thailand to improve innovation

–  Promote life-long and online education

–  Reclaim more forested areas

–  Regulate hawkers and stalls in Bangkok

–  Reduce congestion in large state hospitals

–  Rehabilitate drug addicts

–  Promote transparent fiscal policy

–  Adhere to 20-year national strategic plans

Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra