October 17, 2019 / 8:54 AM / a month ago

Thai opposition protests emergency troop transfer to king

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Opposition members of Thailand’s parliament objected on Thursday to an emergency decree transferring two army units to the command of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, with one politician saying it does not follow the laws of the constitutional monarchy.

FILE PHOTO: Military cadets hold up Thai national flags as they gather outside the Grand Palace to celebrate the 67th birthday of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok, Thailand, July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

The disagreement heightened tensions in the Southeast Asian country’s transition from military rule, in which pro-army and royalist parities have portrayed their opponents as a threat to the monarchy.

This is the first time that lawmakers publicly challenged a legal procedure related to royal affairs.

King Vajiralongkorn was crowned in May as Thailand’s fourth constitutional monarch after taking the throne after the death of his revered father in 2016.

A leader of the opposition Future Forward Party said the royal troop decree, which took effect on Oct. 1, inappropriately used an emergency provision of the constitution to bypass parliament, although it was confirmed by a majority of lawmakers on Thursday.

The decree transferred command of the Bangkok-based 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments from the military chain of command to the king’s Royal Security Command.

Future Forward’s secretary-general, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, said there was no immediate emergency that justified the decree.

He accused Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of continuing to act like a military junta leader.

Prayuth, who as army chief overthrew an elected government in 2014, took office as a civilian prime minister in July after his pro-army party won disputed elections that the opposition says were structured to ensure continued army dominance.

Future Forward, which came in third in the March elections, said the government must follow the constitution.

“Thailand is a kingdom with the king as a head of state, the people have the power and the king exercises that sovereignty through parliament, cabinet, and courts as specified by the constitution,” Piyabutr said.

A lawmaker from the pro-establishment Democrat Party, however, defended the decree.

“Thailand is a unique kingdom,” said Peerapan Saleerattavipak.

“The monarchy is a representation of national security so in the Kingdom of Thailand, we could not separate national security from the monarchy,” he said.

A vote later confirmed the decree by 376 votes to 70 with two abstentions, according to the final tally read out by the speaker. Screens in parliament had initially given the vote tally as 366-70. All the votes against it were from Future Forward.

King Vajiralongkorn has moved to consolidate his personal authority since taking the throne in 2016.

In July 2017, the military-appointed legislative assembly amended a 1936 law to give the king full control of the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the crown’s multi-billion dollar holdings.

Public criticism of the king or his family is illegal in Thailand, with insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson

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