Govt Survives Vote of Confidence But Coalition Partners At Each Other's Throat

246 - 186 - 11 for PM Abhisit Veijajiva, 245 - 187 - 11 for Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban, 244 - 187 - 12 for Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and 239 - 190 - 15 for Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya. These are the bold numbers that show the government has survived yet another battle as politics came back to parliament earlier this week as it faced a vote of no confidence regarding the military crackdown on the anti-government red shirt protesters on May 19 and unsurprisingly, there was a lot of bad blood boiling before the vote.

From the time the debate opened on Monday morning until its close on Tuesday, bitter and heated exchanges have highlighted the depth of animosity and distrust between those aligned to the anti-government Redshirts, on the one hand, and the Democrat party-led government, on the other.

While the words exchanged were blunt, giving the debate an air of transparency and frankness, they were not necessarily truthful or accurate. But then such is the way in almost any parliament in the world. The difference is that this debate took place after unprecedented violence on the streets of Bangkok.

And while heated discussion of a variety of incendiary and controversial issues is part and parcel of what parliamentary debate is about in a healthy democracy, it remains to be seen whether the acrimonious debate smoothes the way for Abhisit's reconciliation plan. (...)

Peua Thai MP and Redshirt leader Jatuporn Promphan accused the government of trying to hide the truth about the recent clashes, while the government in turn accused the protestors of harming their own people to discredit the government and security forces. Focusing on Deputy Prime Minister Suthep, Jatuporn said that the government “accuses us of paying people to die.” He added that, “If I can hire someone, I would pay for Suthep to die.” (...)

Puea Thai Party Chairman Chalerm Yoobamrung questioned a number of government ministers, including the prime minister. His interrogation included a grilling of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, whom he accused of “wretched and vile comments” about the Thai monarchy in a speech that Kasit gave at Johns Hopkins University in April.

"Mantras, Misperceptions and Mutual Acrimony in Thai MP Debate", The Irrawaddy, June 2, 2010

The last paragraph is referring to Kasit's (unusually for him) level-headed remarks about the Thai monarchy during a long (usual) rant about Thaksin and countries that are allegedly helping him.

The parliamentary debate went on for hours, partly had to be stopped at 2 AM in the morning with the MPs still at each other's throat (if anyone was still watching the complete live broadcast on TV). I was only (physically and mentally) able to occasionally drop in out onto the house sessions for some minutes at a time. But from what I heard during the debates, the rhetoric on both sides (during the times I switched to) was at least as fierce as it was during the protests from the red shirt stage - aggressive, rude and at times borderline ugly. The politicians did nothing to win back the trust of the people into the political institutions. The much promotoed "reconciliation" of Abhisit is nowhere to be seen.

While it appeared before the vote that the opposition Puea Thai Party has some problems keeping their MPs in line, another battle line was drawn inside the coalition as Bhumjaithai Party's Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul and Transport Minister Sohpon Zraum have failed to get the minimum 238 votes to survive the no confidence vote (236 and 234 respectively). All eyes were on the Pheua Phaendin Party, whose MPs were allowed to freely vote for or against the ministers and apparently 10 of them did vote against Chavarat and Sohpon. The aftermath is now is ugly:

Bhumjaithai lashed out at Puea Pandin following the no-confidence debate yesterday accusing it of "back-stabbing" and demanding that it leave the coalition.

Puea Pandin MPs either cast votes of no confidence or abstained from voting yesterday for Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul, the Bhumjaithai leader, and Transport Minister Sohpon Zarum.

Newin Chidchob, Bhumjaithai's de facto leader, was particularly upset by the perceived slight. A government source said the party powerbroker told Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban, the government manager, that Puea Pandin's actions were unacceptable.

The row between the two partners has simmered for some time with Bhumjaithai said to have the upper hand.

The parties have locked horns over local development budget allocations and the annual transfer of state officials.

There is also an unsettled score involving political wrangling in the lower Northeast between Boonjong Wongtrairat and Mr Newin of Bhumjaithai, and Pinij Charusombat and Pairote Suwunchwee of Puea Pandin.

Mr Newin is also believed to hold a personal grudge against Kasem Rungthanakiat, who turned to Mr Pairote's party instead of joining Bhumjaithai when the People Power Party was dissolved. Mr Kasem's move to Puea Pandin quashed Mr Newin's hopes of consolidating his political stronghold in the lower Northeast.

"Coalition rivals face off", Bangkok Post, June 3, 2010

Worse, Bhumjaithai is now demanding the Phuea Phaendin Party to be thrown out of the coalition. As of now, the Democrat Party was considering to reshuffle the cabinet:

The Puea Pandin Party is expected to be removed from the government coalition in a coming cabinet reshuffle, a highly-placed source in the government says. Democrat secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban has bowed to the demand of Bhumjaithai Party de facto leader Newin Chidchob to remove Puea Pandin from the coalition.

The source yesterday said Mr Suthep had agreed to Mr Newin's plan after hearing how he could make up for the reduced number of coalition MPs in parliament without Puea Pandin. The coalition government would be left with 22 fewer votes of support through the departure of Puea Pandin.

Puea Pandin has 32 MPs, but 10 come under the influence of Pol Gen Pracha Promnok and they did not support the administration in the first place. The source said Mr Newin had given assurances to Mr Suthep that he could find adequate support to stabilise the coalition alliance following Puea Pandin's departure.

Mr Newin's plan calls for the coalition to keep at least 11 votes: five from the Ban Rim Nam faction of Puea Pandin which supports the government and six from the Matubhumi and Pracharaj parties, which are now in the opposition and each hold three seats in the lower house.

The government also might secure six or eight more seats if Puea Pandin MP for Udon Thani Chaiyos Jiramethakarn can talk his colleagues into leaving the party.

The source said Mr Newin had suggested the three groups be given a deputy ministerial post each. Mr Chaiyos's group might be given a ministerial post if more than eight seats could be secured.

"Puea Pandin On Way Out", Bangkok Post, June 4, 2010

The article goes on about the ministerial posts that could be affected by the reshuffle. In the current cabinet, there are four Phuea Phaendin posts: the Deputy Minister of Education, the Minister of Industry, the Deputy Minister of Finance and the infamous Minister for Information and Technology. The last three could fall into the hands of the Democrat Party if Phuea Phaendin is thrown out.

As for the balance of power in the parliament, the current five-party-coalition (including Democrat Party with 172 and Bhumjai, Phuea Phaendin 32 seats each) has 270 seats, while the opposition Puea Thai Party has 189 and the remaining 16 seats are split between 3 minor parties. If the 32 Phuea Phaendin MPs are thrown out, the coalition is left with 238 seats, just one more than the opposition. So the horsetrading is no surprise with attempts to convince certain Phuea Phaendin MPs, but also the smaller opposition parties to jump ship and change the sides. The decision is to take place Friday.

Even if everything turns out okay for the coalition, with Phuea Phaendin on board or not, this alliance will be even shakier than before. What also became apparent with the fallout between the second and third largest coalition parties is that there is hardly any traditional political alliances between parties as seen in many European democracies, many politicians just want to be where the sun shines the brightest and are willing to do almost anything, many of the parties had no problems to align themselves with the now disbanded Thaksin-proxy People's Power Party.

The tragedy in this whole issue is that parliament has shown its ugly side again when the censure sessions deteriorated to just a shouting-match at times. Does anybody still think about the red shirts, the deaths of the protests and the roots of the problems, that got us here in the first place?