BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gave his first policy statement in the face of genuine parliamentary scrutiny Thursday after five years as an unchallenged junta leader.
He read out a 34-page statement to lawmakers about how his government would handle issues such as the economy, education, labor, and the fight against drugs and corruption.
The 500 members of the House of Representatives elected in March replaced an appointed assembly that had rubber-stamped Prayuth’s decisions without challenge since 2014.
He retained the premiership through a vote of the House and the still-appointed Senate that was heavily weighted in his favor through rules enacted under the junta that weakened traditional political parties.
“We must move our country forward though progress, stability, discipline in Thai society, unity and generosity,” Prayuth told Thursday’s parliament session. “The quality of Thai people’s lives must improve and we must be ready for life in the 21st century.”
There was speculation that the notably irascible Prayuth might lose his temper, under unaccustomed, direct challenge from opposition party lawmakers.
Prayuth raised his voice on several occasions as he addressed Thursday’s parliament session which prompted opposition lawmakers to ask Prayuth to soften his tone. But the former army commander made a noticeable effort to keep his cool and humor intact, despite repeated interruptions and strong criticism from the opposition.
“I have no confidence that the government will utilize the policies presented today to fix the country’s problems,” said Sompong Amornvivat, leader of the opposition Pheu Thai party whose government was ousted by Prayuth’s junta.
“The lack of trust for the leadership of the prime minister and the economic team that features the same faces, who had failed over the past five years will lead the country to disaster, dark times, and bring danger to the people,” Sompong said.
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary general of the opposition Future Forward party, said Thursday’s policy statement was worse than the one issued under the previous military government and much worse than ones issued by other former democratic governments.
He said the policy statement was full of promises but lacked methodology and included populist and conflicting policies. He said it also failed to include policies that were promised during the election campaign of the pro-army party that nominated Prayuth, such as a minimum wage guarantee.
Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, leader of the opposition Prachachart party, said he doesn’t trust Prayuth to restore democracy and recalled the events leading up to the coup.
“How can someone who led a coup say that he will adhere to democratic principles?” Wan asked the parliament session.
Months of sporadic sometimes violent political demonstrations had paralyzed Bangkok’s streets which prompted Prayuth, the army commander at the time, to call in political leaders for talks at an army base before he declared that he would seize power himself.
“I was present on the day of the coup on May 22, 2014, and I can’t get over the words ‘since you cannot come to an agreement, I will seize power in Thailand from now on,’” Wan said.
“And then he pointed at our faces and said ‘Don’t anyone think of fighting me. You won’t be able to even if you tried because I’ve prepared this for over three years,” Wan said.
He then questioned Prayuth’s intentions because Prayuth and his supporters have repeatedly said it was necessary for the military to seize power at the time to put an end to political fighting and demonstrations, and not because the army had spent years planning a coup.