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Thai PM Apologizes for Delay in Forming Cabinet

Wilawan Watcharasakwet and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-07-01
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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha concludes a press conference following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations opening ceremony in Bangkok, June 23, 2019.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha concludes a press conference following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations opening ceremony in Bangkok, June 23, 2019.
AP

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha pointed to quarreling among coalition members as he apologized to the Thai people Monday for not having named his cabinet weeks after being sworn in following Thailand’s first election during five years of military rule.

The Palang Pracharat Party (PPP), which nominated Prayuth for PM, saw him elected after a junta-backed constitution gave smaller parties access to seats in parliament, even if none of their candidates won the popular vote in any district. As many as 19 parties joined a coalition with PPP and voted for Prayuth to retain the office he has held since leading a 2014 military coup.

“The prime minister feels discomfort and, on behalf of Palang Pracharat Party, must apologize to the people because there have been a lot of internal squabbles as reported in the media,” Prayuth said in a message to the media.

“I hope things will move forward to respond to the people as a government for all, a reform of government to disallow politics from heading back to old issues that could catalyze an unwanted way of solving problems,” Prayuth added.

Opposition leaders, however, viewed that last remark by Prayuth as a threat to stage another coup. In May 2014, Prayuth, then the army chief, removed democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office, citing political turmoil and impasse, and installed himself as PM.

“As far as I read his mind and thought process, he has an itch to seize power again. He endangers democracy,” said Sutin Klangsaeng, an MP with the opposition Pheu Thai Party MP. “He eventually created problems for himself within the party out of his eagerness to retain power and by rigging the rules.”

On June 5, the 750-member parliament voted by 500 to 244 to appoint Prayuth as prime minister. While half of the votes came from the lower house coalition, the other half came from the 250-seat senate whose members were handpicked by the military government and will have no legislative power.

Prayuth did have an explanation for the delay in naming his cabinet.

“Because the coalition is brand new, its members from various occupations are so determined to perform their MP duties and to try their best to perform in the cabinet,” Prayuth said.

An early member of the coalition called Sam Mit (Three Buddies) demanded that Prayuth award the energy ministry cabinet post to Suriya Juangroongruangkit, an uncle of opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit who challenged Prayuth for the prime ministerial post.

On June 11, Prayuth took the oath to serve as the democratically elected prime minister. The constitution does not set a deadline for a new cabinet to be in place but its members must have an audience before the king and be sworn in before the taking office.

At that time, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name of the Prayuth-led junta, and the draconian Article 44 will be dissolved. Adopted as part of the 2014 interim constitution that brought the junta to power, Article 44 gave Prayuth absolute authority to give orders he deemed necessary for the country’s good, such as clamping down on free speech and making arrests without warrants.

An academic said the cabinet delay would not affect Prayuth.

“To be able to form the cabinet or not doesn’t hurt Prayuth but that allows the NCPO to have power until we have a new government,” Titipol Phakdeewanich told BenarNews.

“But I think they can solve the differences and be able to form a cabinet through reconciliation for the sake of mutual interest,” said Titipol, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University. “The seat allocation is not based on individual qualifications but on parties’ interest.”

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