The government also scored notable victories in the parliamentary sphere last week with the passage of the budget bill, the appointment of Minister of Finance, Arkhom Termpittayapaisith as Chairman of the oversight committee and the defection of a Pheu Thai MP to the ruling party with more surprises in store according to the Chief Whip, Wirach Ratanasate.
The chances of a General Election in the next 12 months rose further on Tuesday after Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul indicated that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has told cabinet ministers to be prepared to complete their work in the same period because the dissolution of the House of Representatives is likely within that time frame.
The Thai Prime Minister has told his cabinet colleagues that an election may be in the offing within a year.
On Tuesday, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul, the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party in parliament, revealed that the government leader had advised his cabinet colleagues to expedite their work so that all critical matters may be concluded within the next year.
Decision to dissolve the house is the prerogative of the Prime Minister emphasised Bhumjaithai Party leader speaking with the press as he revealed cabinet advice
The Deputy Prime Minister also reminded journalists that the decision to dissolve the House of Representatives was a prerogative of the Prime Minister and emphasised that no such decision has been made yet.
The comments come after a week of tensions within the coalition government comprising the ruling Palang Pracharat Party as well as the Democrat Party, Bhumjaithai Party and a host of smaller groups in the assembly.
This included what appeared, briefly, to be a crisis last week for 24 hours when the 2022 budget showed a ฿4 billion cut in funding allocated to the Ministry of Public Health which was later clarified and ironed out at a cabinet meeting and talks held afterwards.
Bhumjaithai Party MP last week called on Deputy Prime Minister Anutin to walk out of the government over cuts to the Health Ministry budget
Two Bhumjaithai Party MPs in the House of Representatives, however, condemned the move with one, Ms Chada Thaised calling for her party leader to pull out of government.
It also comes as the ฿500 billion loan bill is to be debated in parliament from Wednesday. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam previously warned that the house may be dissolved if the measure is defeated.
This, however, is thought unlikely given the easy passage of the 2022 budget last week in parliament by 269 votes to 201 with several abstentions.
Bhumjaithai Party ready for an election
The Bhumjaithai Party has over 60 seats in parliament after the defection of nine former Future Forward MPs in early 2020 when that party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court.
On Tuesday, Mr Anutin emphasised that his party was ready at any time for a general election.
He said Bhumjaithai, whose name translates to the Thai Pride Party, was united and had a sense of solidarity at this time seeking only to serve the public.
Government Chief Whip confident that borrowing measure will also pass the House of Representatives
Meanwhile, in parliament, the government chief whip, Wirach Ratanasate, has confirmed the political parties within the coalition will all support the loan measure.
He said 25 MPs will debate the government’s executive decree allowing increased borrowing including 12 from the Palang Pracharat Party.
He was dismissive of the opposition’s threat to sink the borrowing bill given the easy passage on the first reading of the budget bill last week.
The process of passing the budget bill is expected to take until August when there will be a third reading and it will be passed on to the Senate and later for the King to sign.
Controversy over ‘classified funds’ linked with Ministry of Defence being examined by committee
Mr Wirach also referred to a controversy brewing over a ‘classified fund’ in the budget associated with the Ministry of Defence which is to be examined by the committee overseeing the passage of the annual financial bill.
Minister of Finance Arkhom Termpittayapaisith was elected Chairman of the 72 member committee reviewing the budget last Friday.
The move ran against tradition in the House of Representatives which normally sees the position reserved for a member of the largest party in the house which would be Pheu Thai.
The committee has 18 cabinet ministers, 30 MPs from the coalition and 24 MPs on the opposition benches.
The Prime Minister, General Prayut, is also Minister of Defence.
The chief whip said the funds concerned were accessed by a range of government and security agencies including the Royal Thai Police, Revenue Department, Excise Department and the Anti Money Laundering Office.
He stressed that any decision to make public further details concerning the funds was not a matter for the parliamentary committee but the government.
Confidence on the government benches is rising after Pheu Thai MP defects to Palang Pracharat Party
The confidence of the government party in parliament, in recent days, has been augmented by the defection of a Pheu Thai MP to its side during the budget debate.
Ruangkrai Leekitwattana was a party-list MP for Pheu Thai, and before that, a member of the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party.
He had been one of the Pheu Thai MPs who reviewed the 2021 budget at the committee stage.
The government whip said the MP’s experience of budget matters was welcome and said that Palang Pracharat Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, had also been informed.
The MP is reported to have joined the ruling party a month ago.
Future surprises in store for Pheu Thai
Mr Wirach also intimated that future surprises may be in store for the main opposition party, Pheu Thai.
Despite this, Pheu Thai Secretary-general, Prasert Chanthararuangthong, has told reporters his party was satisfied with its performance last week during the budget debate and its outcome.
Notwithstanding this, four of its MPs did not vote on the bill with two explaining that they were indisposed while two others failed to clarify their position at all.