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Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Denies Stacking Senate With Junta Loyalists

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BANGKOK – Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon on Wednesday defended the Junta’s choice of senators, 101 of whom have military and police backgrounds.

They have experience in law-making and reform work and should be up to the job, he said.

Gen Prawit, who chaired the Senate selection committee, said the senators were chosen because they had either served in the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) or the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), both of which were installed by the regime.

He said they had taken part in law-making and reform work, and he was sure they would meet expectations as senators.

Gen Prawit brushed off accusations of nepotism and cronyism, despite six of the senators being his classmates from Class 6 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and another being his younger brother, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon.

“There’s just a couple of them. That’s all of them,” he said.

Asked if the Senate would tip the balance in favour of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha when both chambers meet to choose a new prime minister, he said the Senate is allowed to vote and it is for them to decide.

Gen Prayut on Wednesday echoed Gen Prawit’s comment that many of the senators have experience and their qualifications have been vetted.

Regarding criticism that 1.5 billion baht was spent on the Senate selection process, he said the expenditure covered the selection of 200 shortlisted candidates from 10 professional groups across the country by the Election Commission (EC).

Of these 200 shortlisted candidates, 50 were selected to join the 194 senators chosen by the Prawit panel. The six others are the commanders of the armed forces, the chief of the defence forces, the national police chief, and the defence permanent secretary.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai on Wednesday called on Gen Prawit to disclose the names of those on the selection committee to show transparency.

The Pheu Thai heavyweight said the Upper House lacks diversity and there is also suspicion some of the appointees are also members of the selection committee.

He said party representatives will submit a petition to Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit calling for the disclosure of the committee members.

Meanwhile, former NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said he is prepared to be Senate Speaker.

According to Mr Pornpetch, the Senate’s responsibilities differ from those of the NLA. In addition to scrutinising legislation, it must follow up on implementation of the 20-year national strategic plan.

The former NLA president also defended Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha, younger brother of Gen Prayut, who reportedly had a poor attendance record when serving as an NLA member.

He said Gen Preecha was a responsible lawmaker and expressed confidence he would be up to the job as a senator.

Meanwhile, two new senators on Wednesday urged MPs to stop harassing them over the prime ministerial vote, saying selecting the premier is part of their job under the charter.

Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn said senators have the right to help select the prime minister and they will vote for the person most suitable for the job.

“If the MPs can muster 375 votes, there is no need to worry,” he said.

Seri Suwanphanont, also a senator, said attempts by MPs to pressure senators not to vote for a certain prime ministerial candidate, could be construed as interfering in Senate affairs or compromising their independence, as well as being in violation of the charter.

Chayut Suebsakul, a newly-appointed senator, on Wednesday refused to comment on reports that he was found at fault by the National Anti-Corruption Commission over a land purchase scheme.

Pheu Thai member Chalerm Ubamrung, predicted a coalition government led by the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) will be short-lived due to it having a thin majority.

According to Mr Chalerm, a former MP, a PPRP-led coalition would last two years at best and one year at worst.

By Bangkok Post