By Simon Roughneen in Bangkok
The Thai prime minister on Wednesday survived a no-confidence motion tabled against his Democrat party-led administration after two days of bruising parliamentary exchanges that highlighted the country’s deep political divisions.
Abhisit Vejjajiva won the no-confidence vote by 246 votes to 186. Over the past two days, government and opposition lawmakers argued fiercely over the recent anti-government “red shirt” protests in central Bangkok in which clashes between army, police and demonstrators left 87 dead and well over a thousand injured.
The vote took place exactly two weeks after a Thai army crackdown forced the “red shirt” leaders to end their protests.
Mr Abhisit may feel more confident about pushing his reconciliation proposal after 246 members of parliament voted to support his administration.
The reconciliation plan was first tabled on May 3. Although initially welcomed by leaders of the anti-government movement as “quite constructive”, the protesters ultimately refused to accept the plan. The finer points have not yet been clarified or agreed upon, but the reconciliation proposal pledges some constitutional amendments, an independent investigation into the recent political violence, increased social spending and the establishment of a media monitoring body.
However, Mr Abhisit has withdrawn an offer to hold early elections, which was part of the initial early May proposal. The “red shirts” regard his administration as illegitimate and began protests in Bangkok on March 12 to demand his immediate resignation.
The parliament earlier passed a first reading of a Bt2,000bn ($61.3bn) 2011 budget, a 22 per cent increase from this year.
The budget should buttress the proposed reconciliation plan with increased social spending. However, the government maintains that Thailand’s rich-poor, urban-rural divide was not a key driver of the recent protests. After the vitriolic debate, Mr Abhisit conceded that “emotions flared over the past two days”.
Jatuporn Promphan, a member of parliament from the Peau Thai party and red shirt leader, accused the government and security forces of covering up their role in the recent violence.
Suthep Thaugsuban, deputy prime minister, described Mr Jatuporn as “cruel, selfish and heartless toward Thailand”.
Critics of the government supplemented their testimony with video clips of the violence.
During the debate, members of parliament argued about shootings at a designated “safe haven” close to the main “red shirt” rally area. Mr Abhisit maintained that four of the six people killed at the Buddhist temple on May 19 had been shot on level ground, adding that this had been supported by the autopsy results. But opposition politicians and some eyewitnesses present that evening said the shooting had come from an overhead rail line thought to be occupied by the army.
Peau Thai is the largest party in the Thai parliament and a successor party to those established by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister. It is aligned with the “red shirt” movement.
While the government accuses Mr Thaksin of being the financial and political mastermind behind the red shirts, it is unlikely to include him in its reconciliation plan.
Speaking on Tuesday night, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the governor of Bangkok and a Democrat party politician, said that Mr Abhisit was “not about to negotiate with an international terrorist”.Show