Thailand’s parliament approved an emergency decree on Thursday transferring two elite army units under the king’s direct command, as lawmakers began three days of talks on the 2020 budget that increases royal services spending by 13 percent.
The decree to transfer the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments from the military’s chain of command to the king’s Royal Guard Command was issued by King Maha Vajiralongkorn earlier this month.
After approving the decree, legislators began the first of three days of discussions on the 3.2 trillion baht (U.S. $106 billion) budget presented by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. They are expected to vote on Saturday following deliberations on the budget, which is 6.7 percent higher than this year’s 3 trillion baht ($99.1 billion) spending plan.
The new budget allocates almost 8 billion baht ($254 million) to King Vajiralongkorn’s services, an increase of 13 percent over 2019’s allocation of 6.8 billion baht ($225 million).
Members of the opposition Future Forward Party rebuked the decree, which passed by a vote of 374 to 70.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, FFP’s secretary-general, called it unconstitutional and said it did not merit endorsement.
“The decree is not in line with Article 172 of the Constitution. It is not an urgent matter and does not have an impact on the constitutional monarch, therefore, I as an elected representative cannot endorse the decree,” Piyabutr told the parliament.
The article stipulates that in the case of emergency regarding national security, public safety or disaster, the monarch can issue an emergency decree.
Earlier, deputy defense minister Gen. Chaicharn Changmongkol told the MPs the decree is a top priority. While King Vajiralongkorn, 67, is technically the commander-in-chief of the Buddhist-majority nation’s armed forces, his decree bypassed the traditional military chain of command.
“The command has to provide security at royal events and the palace as well as for the royals and their guests, therefore it is appropriate to transfer the 1st and the 11th Infantry Regiments to be under the Royal Guard Command,” Chaicharn said.
Meanwhile, Piyabutr said he and FFP members were not taking action against King Vajiralongkorn.
“The Future Forward Party and I reaffirm that we respect the constitutional monarchy,” Piyabutr said. “But what I’m addressing today is to confirm the constitutional power for legislators to balance and check the administrative side to maintain the parliamentary system and the constitutional monarchy.”
Thailand converted from absolute monarchy to the constitutional monarchy in 1932 when citizens and the military dethroned King Rama VII. The country of 70 million people has endured more than 20 coups since then.
Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon-turned politician introduced policies that proved popular with many people but was ousted in 2006 by a military coup.
His sister, Yingluck, faced the same outcome in 2014 when a Prayuth-led military junta overthrew her government. In taking control of the government, Prayuth said he wanted to guarantee a smooth transition from King Bhumibol to his son, King Vajiralongkorn.
The Thai monarchy is considered revered and protected by the strict Lese-Majeste law that criminalizes royal defamation and carries a prison sentence of three to 15 years if convicted.