Thailand’s government has survived a no-confidence vote, days after clashes in Bangkok between protesters and riot police in the largest demonstration against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s 16-month-old administration.
Legislators voted 308 to 159 on Wednesday to keep Yingluck in power after opponents accused her of failing to crack down on graft. One deputy prime minister and two other ministers also comfortably survived no-confidence votes.
“Parliament has voted for Prime Minister Yingluck to continue her work,” house speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont announced after the vote, which followed three days of debate by parliamentarians.
During the debate, the opposition focused on a rice intervention scheme that it says is riddled with corruption.
The opposition Democrat Party blamed Yingluck for putting Thailand at risk of losing its spot as the world’s top rice exporter in the programme, in which the government paid farmers prices higher than market prices.
Yingluck told parliamentarians the programme gave direct benefits to Thai farmers and helped increase the prices of Thai rice.
“We incurred losses trying to help Thailand’s poor farmers but the scheme is transparent,” Yingluck said.
The opposition accused the government of allowing private companies with ties to it to benefit from the policy.
“The scheme allows the government to monopolise the sale of rice. Corruption is just one side-effect of a flawed scheme,” said opposition leader and former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Yingluck and other ministers were also accused of irregularities in the government’s flood management budget, canal-dredging projects and the procurement of combat systems on two navy frigates.
The opposition is still threatening to lodge a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission over the rice policy but, after seeing off the protesters and defeating the censure motion, the government can brush it off, analysts said.
“Accusations of foul play will keep the government off-balance but won’t hurt it,” said Siripan Nogsuan, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Yingluck, sister of exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra, won a landslide election victory last year, and has led Thailand
through one of its longest peaceful periods in recent years.
After the early clashes, Saturday’s rally by the royalist Pitak Siam group fizzled out by evening and the authorities lifted special security regulations brought in to control it.
About 20,000 protesters had accused Yingluck of being a puppet for her brother, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence handed down for abuse of power in 2008. He claims the charges were politically motivated.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung was also accused of serving the interests of Thaksin.
“Our country is in turmoil because your government is unable to separate personal matters from national ones,” said Abhisit, referring to an amnesty plan the opposition says is designed to help Thaksin come home without serving time in jail.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon, remains a divisive figure, reviled as corrupt and authoritarian by the elite and revered as a populist hero by the poor. He has been a focal point of protests since 2005, accused by royalists of trying undermine Thailand’s popular King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
In 2008, yellow-shirted members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) seized government offices, occupied Bangkok’s main airports for eight days and helped bring down two pro-Thaksin prime ministers.
But its influence has waned amid internal splits and a loss of support, and the group distanced itself from Saturday’s protest.
On Monday Boonlert Kaewprasit, a former general, quit as leader of Pitak Siam after the failure of the rally.