General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected as prime minister in a Parliamentary vote late on Wednesday night after more than 10 hours of intense debate.
Prayut returned as PM for a second term after a five-year term since the 2014 coup, beating his opponent Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with 500 to 244 votes. Three MPs abstained from voting and one was on a sick leave.
Thanathorn did not vote because he has been suspended from his MP duties, and neither did former Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who gave up his party-list MP seat on Wednesday morning.
His victory came due to support from nearly 20 political parties and the 250-member Senate.
The general is Thailand’s 29th prime minister.
Junta chief earlier got a taste of parliamentary politics yesterday when he was grilled during a marathon debate in Parliament before a vote to install him as the new prime minister.
The vote to choose between coup leader General Prayut and anti-junta politician Thanathorn Juangroon-gruangkit for the top government post was delayed until 9pm after a day of heated and intense debates.
Neither of the two contenders were present in Parliament. While Prayut kept himself confined to his office in Government House in the morning and later at home in the afternoon, Thanathorn expressed his views before the media from outside the meeting room.
The future PM should admit that the country faces a lot of tough problems and make the changes to move the country forward, said Thanathorn, who is the leader of the Future Forward Party.
“I was born when Thailand was at the same stage of development as South Korea, but now Vietnam, which joined the economic race much later, looks set to leap ahead of Thailand,” Thanathorn said, adding “I’m ready to lead Thailand into the future.”
Earlier, lower house speaker Chuan Leekpai had promised he would allow the MPs and senators to debate extensively on any related issues, including on whether the two candidates had the qualifications to be the prime minister.
Those opposed to Prayut returning as premier focused on his leadership of the coup in 2014 and his status as a state authority. They argued that his involvement in a coup showed his lack of faith in democracy and the constitutional monarchy while his continuation as a state authority was against the law that disqualifies state officials from running for PM.
Pheu Thai Party frontbencher in Parliament, Cholanan Srikaeo, began the session by arguing that Prayut had staged a coup, which was strongly against the Constitution and a deviation from democracy. He should also be disqualified because he was a state official, Cholanan said.
The politician warned that Prayut would lead the country into crisis and failure because of his bureaucracy-centred style of administration.
The seven parties in the anti-junta bloc could not approve Prayut to be the premier, Cholanan said.
Other politicians in the bloc argued similarly, reiterating Prayut was not qualified because he was obviously a state official whose pay cheque came from the taxpayers though the Ombudsman had already cleared Prayut.
However, Prayut’s backers – mostly junta-appointed senators and Phalang Pracharat MPs – argued that the general had already been checked by independent agencies and cleared to be the PM candidate.
Others also defended Prayut’s role as coup leader, arguing that the circumstances in 2014 had made it necessary for the Army to intervene. Had Prayut not staged a coup, the political turmoil would not have ended, they stressed.
The two blocs also clashed several times when debating the 2014 coup. At one point, senator Seri Suwanpanont admitted that he would rather support a democratic dictatorship rather than a fake democracy.
Meanwhile, Thanathorn, the other PM candidate, was hardly discussed. Those opposed to his bid only expressed concern that he could not take the job because of his current suspension from the MP duty following the Constitutional Court order in a case related to his alleged shareholding in a media company.
Thanathorn, however, was also present at the election venue, ready to give a speech on his vision for the country.
The house, however, did not allow that as Phalang Pracharat MPs argued that there was no such provision in the regulations.