Thai PM faces parliamentary grilling as protests persist

BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thai lawmakers began a censure debate against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday (Aug 31), as opponents threatened to intensify street protests fuelled by frustration at his government’s handling of a Covid-19 crisis.

The political opposition accuses the former army chief and five of his cabinet ministers, including deputy prime minister and health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, of corruption, economic mismanagement and of bungling the coronavirus response.

Mr Prayut has weathered two previous censure motions and is expected to survive a no-confidence vote scheduled for Saturday, owing to his coalition’s clear parliamentary majority.

But the motion is unlikely to appease the youth-led anti-government groups that sought Mr Prayut’s removal last year and have returned with renewed support from Thais angered by lockdowns, record Covid-19 deaths and a haphazard vaccine rollout.

Demonstrators have threatened nationwide protests while the opposition grills Mr Prayut in parliament.

“Every seven minutes a Thai person died because of the blundered management of the Covid-19 situation,” opposition leader Sompong Amornwiwat of the Pheu Thai Party said in opening the debate.

“There are economic losses of 8 billion baht (S$333.13 million) per day from a lack of management and lockdown measures that have failed.” Mr Prayut told parliament the government was always working for public interest.

“For those who suffered, I have introduced assisting measures,” he said.

“The government has increased domestic spending, investment and built healthcare. For you to tell me that I have nothing to show for my performance I’d say look again.”

Mr Prayut, a staunch royalist, took power in a 2014 military coup and remained prime minister after a 2019 election, making him the longest-serving Thai leader since the end of the Cold War.

The protests against him, which are outlawed under coronavirus restrictions, have gathered steam in recent weeks, despite frequent, at times violent clashes with police who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

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