Friday, 7 June 2019

“Everything stays the same...”

Gen Prayut wins PM vote
Coup leader Prayut Chan-o-cha was confirmed as Thai Prime Minister again last night, after he received a total of 500 votes from MPs and senators. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the progressive Future Forward party, gained 244 votes. Prayut’s second term was never in any real doubt, as he could count on the votes of the 250 senators he had appointed. (The democratic 1997 constitution introduced a fully elected Senate, though it was only 50% elected following the military’s 2007 constitution. After Prayut’s 2014 coup, the latest charter allowed the junta to appoint every senator.)

Prayut was nominated as Prime Minister by the pro-military Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), though they lost the 24th March election, with 97 constituency MPs. Pheu Thai won the highest number of parliamentary seats, 136, though they lacked an overall majority. The new constitution supplemented the ‘first past the post’ system with an element of proportional representation, though incredibly the Election Commission only confirmed its seat-allocation formula after the election had taken place. Following an unprecedented delay, the official results were announced six weeks after the election.

As expected, the Commission’s calculations favoured minor parties at the expense of Pheu Thai, to prevent another landslide by Thaksin Shinawatra’s party. (The PPRP gained a further nineteen MPs, taking their total to 116.) Other attempts to bend the rules in favour of Prayut include the dissolution of the Thai Raksa Chart party and various trumped-up charges against Thanathorn. (He is currently suspended from parliament pending an investigation into his shares in V-Luck Media, though he has already provided evidence that he sold them before becoming an MP.)

Immediately after the election, Pheu Thai, Future Forward, and five smaller parties signed up for an anti-Prayut alliance of 246 MPs, just shy of a parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, the PPRP joined with ten single-seat micro-parties and others to form a pro-military group of 150 MPs. Pressure to join the PPRP coalition was intense: one Future Forward politician, for example, revealed that he had been offered 120 million baht to switch sides.

Two medium-sized parties, the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, played hard to get, declaring their support for the PPRP only one day before the prime ministerial vote. This gave the PPRP a last-minute total of 254 seats, a slim majority. Abhisit Vejjajiva, former Prime Minister and Democrat leader, resigned as an MP in protest at his party supporting Prayut. (During the election campaign, he had pledged to oppose Prayut’s candidacy, though after the election his party voted to break that commitment.)

Speaking to reporters today, Prayut said: “Everything stays the same.” After overthrowing a democratic government and being appointed Prime Minister by his hand-picked National Legislative Assembly, he has now been reappointed thanks to a rubber-stamp Senate and an acquiescent Election Commission. Prayut has ensured that, as so often in Thailand’s past, the military will dominate national politics for the foreseeable future.

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