As pro-democracy protesters in Thailand vow to intensify movement against the incumbent government, prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha faces a no-confidence motion along with members of his cabinet in the national legislature. The debate in the National Assembly of Thailand on the motion began on Tuesday, August 31. It is the third such vote moved against the government by the opposition parties since protests started in Thailand last year.
Apart from Chan-o-cha, five cabinet ministers, including deputy prime minister and public health minister Anutin Charnvirakul, are facing charges of corruption and mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic in the no-confidence motion. Protesters have also targeted Chan-o-cha and Charnvirakul, demonstrating outside their offices and the business ventures that the latter’s family holds stakes in.
The government has enough votes in its favor, with support from the entire Senate, appointed directly and indirectly by the military, and a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives. But the opposition is taking the opportunity to bring to light the abuses of the current pro-military government, which first came to power in 2014 through a coup d’etat. The opposition will be focusing on what they have termed the failures of counter-pandemic efforts.
“As the world prepares to face the worst pandemic in history, the leaders of the Thai government are unable to understand and assess the situation of the pandemic and, consequently, they fail to protect the population from the current crisis,” said Sompong Amornwiwat of the opposition Pheu Thai Party while opening the debate.
Thailand has witnessed a massive surge in COVID-19 infections with the recent onslaught of the Delta variant. The number of cases crossed the 1 million mark and the number of fatalities crossed 11,500 fatalities by August-end. Since July, the country has reported upwards of 15,000 cases daily with the seven-day average on August 31 standing at over 17,700.
The country also added more than 600,000 cases in August alone. An even greater surge expected in September and October by official estimates. “Every seven minutes, a Thai person died because of the blundered management of the COVID-19 situation,” added Amornwiwat. “There are economic losses of 8 billion baht (USD 247.60 million) per day from a lack of management and lockdown measures that have failed.”
Unlike the non-confidence motions seen earlier, the government will face fresh corruption charges, especially against the health minister Charnvirakul. Opposition lawmakers have raised allegations of massive graft over discrepancies of around THB 2 billion (around USD 61.8 million) in earmarked vaccine funds and money paid for purchasing the Sinovac vaccine, used for mass vaccination.
While prime minister Chan-o-cha denied the allegations and defended his cabinet’s counter-pandemic efforts, Charnvirakul and other ministers facing the motion did not take the stage on Tuesday. The debate will continue until September 3 and a vote is scheduled to be held on September 4.
At the same time, the government is expected to face a new wave of protests with social movements joining hands. On Sunday, August 29, nationwide car rallies were taken out by thousands of protesters in what the organizers had stated to be a “Car Mob Call Out.”
According to Voice TV, at least five provinces witnessed protests. In addition to the Bangkok region protests were also held in theChiang Mai, Lamphun, Ayutthaya, and Amnat Charoen provinces. The Car Mob was organized ahead of the no-confidence vote to pressure legislators to vote against the government.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), commonly known as the “Red Shirts,” was also one of the major organizers of Sunday’s protest. Nattawut Saikeur, secretary-general of the UDD, and Sombat Boonngamanong, an anti-coup activist and one of the organizers of the Car Mob, announced on Sunday that they intend to “escalate” the movement for democratization.
According to Prachatai, Saikeur said he believed that most people had cast a no-confidence vote against the PM ahead of the motion in parliament. He reportedly added that the car movement is a message to think twice before supporting Prayut Chan-o-cha and decide whether to take sides with him or with the people.
“This is very important,” said Boonngamanong. “If the (pro-government) coalition parties vote for the Prime Minister to stay on, it will be in conflict with the feelings of the people.”
The new wave of protests will begin in Bangkok from September 2, and Boonngamanong has reportedly added that it will continue every day until the prime minister steps down.
Based on inputs and reports from Prachatai