BANGKOK — After images of lawmakers snoozing during debate of next year’s proposed multi-trillion baht budget incensed taxpayers, two of the nappers gave flaccid explanations as the junta leader berated their behavior.
Air Chief Marshal Chalee Chanruang and Thamrong Tassananchalee, two members of the National Legislative Assembly, dodged questions or offered excuses for why they were sleeping like logs during Thursday’s session. Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha chastised the mostly elderly nap-takers and threatened not to re-appoint them.
“I don’t want to comment on the picture that the media disseminated, because it’s something they chose to focus on. Personally, I don’t feel sorry that it’s a news item, and I don’t want to offer excuses,” Air Chief Marshal Chalee Chanruang said Friday. “I’ve been going to work every day and last month I had balloon heart surgery.
Thamrong refused an interview, saying he was “busy in a meeting.” Although there were other sleeping members, Chalee and Thamrong have been singled out for the apparent depth of their repose.
Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said he warned assembly members not to fall asleep during meetings again at risk of losing their positions.
“Next time, those who fall asleep cannot be [a legislator] any longer. I’m watching. If they sleep, they don’t need to be holding a position and should sleep at home,” Prayuth, who spent two hours addressing the assembly, said Friday.
Asked if Chalee and Thamrong’s naps would damage the junta leader’s image since he was the one who appointed them, Prayuth snapped back angrily.
“Enough. Your question is nonsense. None of your questions have value!” he said.
Despite some members falling asleep during the seven-hour debate, the 3 trillion-baht annual budget sailed through after first reading with unanimous support from 197 NLA members, including those who slept through some of the particulars.
It’s an increase over 2018’s 2.9 trillion baht budget and runs a deficit for the 12th-year running.
Assembly Vice President Peerasak Porjit apologized Friday for the photos reaching the public.
“I have to apologize to citizens on behalf of the NLA that these pictures were distributed, causing people to think that we aren’t working to the fullest. But I ensure you that both MPs are constantly working on the ground and meeting citizens,” Peerasak said. “Still, I understand how citizens feel, since you view this meeting as important.”
He added that the legislators were not napping when Gen. Prayuth and his deputy Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan were addressing the body Thursday morning. He said they fell asleep later during the afternoon debate session.
He confirmed Chalee’s recent bypass operation and said Thamrong was also ill, arguing that neither man should be dismissed.
“Falling asleep in the meeting room does not yet fall under the category of unethical behavior and inability to perform their duty. I believe there will be no problem for them to continue in their positions,” Peerasak said.
Criticism raged online about the nappers. A flurry of memes erupted from comics portraying MPs as manga ninjas to jokes about how the aircon was in the meeting room, allowing the men to fall asleep.
“The very elderly are not suited to be in the assembly. … Are their brains fast enough?” pro-democracy activist Sombat Boon-ngamanong wrote online today. “Their worldviews are also stuck in set ways. There should be younger people in there to create balance.”
He added, that in such meetings, “if you delay something by one minute, you waste hundreds of minutes for hundreds of people.”
“After lunch time comes nappy time, so you can grow big and strong,” commented user Somsak Meeklang mocklingly. “The only thing not growing is our economy.”
Friday’s Kaimaew comic referenced an aircon brand promoted as so quiet and cool that people fall asleep.
The Ninja Narutu online comic draws Prayuth as Uchiha Sasuke from the manga Naruto. In it, he asks other ninjas to discuss the village’s budget while Prawit (as Danzo Shimura) says Prayuth’s chakra is too strong for ninjas to handle.
A meme from the Basement Karaoke page, where the napping men got karaoke lyrics: “Rest your eyes dear / sleep right here” from “Talord Wela” by folk rocker Pu Pongsit.
The Cartoon Ratom page drew the sleeping MPs as characters from Detective Conan.
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk