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Education minister facing biggest backlash in no-confidence vote

Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan is expected to gain the fewest approval votes following his censure-debate grilling this week, amid speculation that up to 30 MPs will give him the thumbs-down.

The opposition claims MPs from both sides of the House are dissatisfied with Nataphol’s performance.

MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, spokesman for the opposition Move Forward Party, said MPs were unhappy with the education minister’s failure to address issues they asked him to tackle.

Wiroj also claimed some of Nataphol’s party colleagues want him removed from his ministerial post so much that they gave the opposition damaging information to use against him in the House grilling.

Nataphol, 54, is deputy leader of the Palang Pracharath Party, the core ruling coalition partner.

Many of his party colleagues are also unhappy that Nataphol had “always boasted about” being the party’s No 1 list candidate in the 2019 general election, according to Wiroj.

‘Inside information’

“Some of the information used in the censure debate came from many Palang Pracharath MPs. My prediction is that the education minister will get the fewest votes after this grilling,” the opposition MP said recently.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Saturday (Feb 20) following a four-day no-confidence debate that began on Tuesday.

Nataphol was targeted for censure by opposition MPs along with nine other Cabinet members, including PM Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In its censure motion, the opposition accused Nataphol of lacking integrity, failing to respect human rights, and condoning corruption – in addition to malfeasance, inefficiency and political interference. The education minister dismissed all the charges.

Nataphol was accused of favouring his allies in Education Ministry appointments. He was also criticised for the “scant budget” allocated for free school lunches.

Last October, protesters from the Bad Student group called on the education minister to resign, accusing him of failing to resolve alleged abuse in schools by teachers and implying that student activists were being “manipulated” by political forces.

More recently, Nataphol made waves within Palang Pracharath, in a dispute with party leader Prawit Wongsuwan over who should contest the upcoming election for Bangkok governor.

Nataphol is backing his wife Taya – a former deputy Bangkok governor – while Prawit reportedly favours former police chief Chakthip Chaijinda.

The confrontation angered many of Nataphol’s party colleagues who are loyal to Prawit.

Wealthy background

Born on May 29, 1966, in the United States, Nataphol obtained a master’s degree in marketing from Thammasat University.

His late father Virapan served as chairman of the board for many leading companies.

Nataphol, himself, was a business executive before entering politics in 2007, becoming the Democrat Party director and later contesting but failing to win an election. His first electoral success came two years later, when he won a Bangkok by-election to become a Democrat Party MP. He was re-elected in 2011.

In 2014, Nataphol quit the Democrat Party to become a key figure in the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, which then was leading street protests against the Yingluck Shinawatra government. The subsequent disturbances culminated in a military coup in May that year led by Prayut, who was Army chief.

Nataphol joined the Palang Pracharath Party in 2018 as a deputy leader. Backed by the post-coup junta, the party nominated General Prayut as its prime ministerial candidate.

In the March 2019 general election, Nataphol was No 1 candidate on Palang Pracharath’s party-list ticket – ahead of more seasoned political veterans and dealmakers like Suriya Juangroongruangkit and Somsak Thepsutin. Nataphol duly became one of 18 party-list MPs from Palang Pracharath.

Both Nataphol and his wife Taya are from wealthy families. The couple reported a combined wealth of Bt780 million in their filings with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

 

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)

 

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