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Yingluck - the PM who's always missing

Opposition condemns premier for constrantly skipping House Session and avoiding debates'

"YINGLUCK, where are you?" - this phrase seems to be regularly chanted by opposition Democrat MPs at House meetings. They possibly do this to highlight the fact that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is often absent when lawmakers are debating key issues.

Yingluck seems to be facing some tough tests as her two-year-old government is moving to push some key legislation through Parliament, including an amnesty bill and a constitutional amendment. As an elected member of Parliament representing the ruling-Pheu Thai Party, the prime minister has often been criticised for avoiding parliamentary work. Critics and observers often ask if she really wants to do her job as an MP.

"Yingluck enjoys visiting other countries and going on field trips. She doesn't care much about her duties as an MP," a Democrat MP said, echoing the view of several others in the opposition.

Former deputy national police chief Vasit Dejkunchorn, who initiated the anti-government Thai Spring group, recently questioned Yingluck's trip to the provinces while the amnesty bill was going through its first reading in the House.

On August 7-8, the House was debating the bill proposed by Pheu Thai MP Worachai Hema and the premier was on a train to Nakhon Pathom, where she chaired a meeting on a railway development plan. She then travelled to Nong Pho Dairy Cooperative in Ratchaburi and observed wild elephants at the National Park in Prachuab Khiri Khan.

In his article, Vasit said that as Yingluck did not have the experience or the debating skills to counter arguments raised by opposition MPs, her older brother preferred that if she kept herself busy with other activities on the day.

The current 24th House of Representatives has had five regular sessions and one extraordinary session so far. Though Yingluck tried to attend House meetings early in her term, she started skipping them soon after.

She has also only answered three queries - one put forward by a government MP and two others by Democrats.

She was given "one star" as an MP in her first year because she attended less than 70 per cent of the meetings, according to the MP's "report book", which is part of the Thailand Political Database - a website that monitors Thai politicians.

In 2012, her second year, Yingluck's attendance went down to 50 per cent in September, rose to 60 per cent in November and fell to 56 per cent in March this year.

Charas Suwanmala, former dean of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science and head of the Thailand Political Database project, said he believed the poor attendance of Yingluck and some of her ministers could be attributed to their busy schedules as Cabinet members. "However, they cannot always use that as an excuse for not attending Parliament meetings.

The prime minister should attend more often," Charas said.

Government Spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi, however, defended Yingluck's absence, saying she attended Parliament whenever she had the time, but the media does not always cover it. Parliament is her top priority, he insisted.

"The opposition picks on the PM no matter what she does. For instance, they accuse her of just signing the attendance register and leaving shortly. She doesn't care much about what people think, she has good intentions," the spokesman said.

Though Yingluck has missed several debates on important subjects during the current parliamentary session, the government spokesman said she always monitored these meetings.

For instance, she was briefed about the debate on Worachai's bill. Also, according to the spokesman, she knew "all the details" about an incident that erupted during a heated debate on constitutional amendment on August 20-21, when she was visiting Tajikistan and Pakistan. Immediately after arriving in Bangkok, she called to check if she should attend the House debate that night, the spokesman said.

He admitted that though Yingluck's role as an MP might not be prominent, as an administrator she is "good and has many supporters".

"She is perfect as an efficient coordinator," Teerat said.

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