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Opposition set to grill Prayut over oath gaffe

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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha attends an election campaign rally in Bangkok, Thailand, March 22, 2019 Xinhua

BANGKOK (Bangkok Post) – The opposition is filing an urgent motion for a parliamentary debate to grill Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over the oath-taking controversy after he twice missed House sessions to explain the matter.

The seven-party opposition agreed to submit the motion with parliament president Chuan Leekpai this week. The general debate should be launched next week, Pheu Thai Party MP Cholnan Srikaew told the Bangkok Post.

Passage of the motion, to be tabled under Section 152 of the constitution, requires the assent of one-tenth of the House, or 50 MPs.

The opposition claims Gen Prayut’s oath-taking on July 16 during the cabinet’s swearing-in violated the charter’s code of ethics. According to Dr Cholnan, the opposition believes Gen Prayut erred by reading the oath from a prepared note, rather than reciting the speech provided by the cabinet secretariat office.

“We don’t think it was a case of carelessness. Rather, it may have been [the prime minister’s] intention to evade significant phrases in the oath,” he said.

Gen Prayut is accused of omitting the oath’s final sentence — a vow to uphold and abide by the constitution.

Dr Cholnan said the omission showed Gen Prayut’s lack of faith in democratic rule, which constitutes a gross violation of the law.

Gen Prayut is in hot water after twice missing House sessions, last week and on Wednesday, in which Future Forward Party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul asked him to explain the oath-taking issue. He missed last week’s House meeting while on a visit to the South.

A political source said the opposition is using the debate, in which no vote will be cast, to pressure the prime minister into explaining himself. Gen Prayut declined to give any reason for his absence on Wednesday, insisting he had always treated parliament with respect. He said the oath-taking issue had reached the Ombudsman, who is likely to pass it on to the Constitutional Court. The premier said people should allow the legal process to take its course.

“I don’t know how the petition will turn out. Let’s not use this to attack [me] politically,” Gen Prayut said, adding he stands ready to be examined over the saga.

Parliament president Chuan said it was expected of Gen Prayut to provide answers to the House. If for any reason he was unable to attend or did not wish to explain any issues, he should offer an explanation for his absence, Mr Chuan added.

Earlier, activist Srisuwan Janya asked the Ombudsman to forward the matter to the Constitutional Court or the Administrative Court for a ruling on the government’s legitimacy in light of the incomplete oath. Mr Srisuwan also petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to investigate Gen Prayut and his cabinet over the same issue.

Dr Cholnan warned that an Administrative Court ruling against Gen Prayut could mean legislation enacted by ministers who attended the swearing-in ceremony would be declared null and void. He said the only way out was to seek a royal pardon and request royal permission to deliver the oath again.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Wednesday the Constitutional Court had final authority over the issue.

Mr Piyabutr said that ministers should find a solution rather than leaving the decision to independent agencies, a reference to the Ombudsman and Constitutional Court. He said the opposition did not intend to oust the premier over the issue.

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