Calling himself “the people’s MP,” a member of Thailand’s parliament is offering to fight the prime minister in the country’s traditional martial art of Muay Thai, and has been posting photos of himself training for the hoped-for but very unlikely showdown.
While no one thinks the bout will actually happen, the stunt is yet another round of criticism for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to deal with, as near-daily protests against the government’s COVID-19 response rattle authorities.
The lawmaker, 40-year-old Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, leads the Thai Civilized Political Party as its only elected representative. This is not his first time attracting public attention. Last year, he made headlines for proposals to legalize gambling, sex work and sex toys.
He is also known for being very active on social media, where he posts selfies and issues photo updates about the COVID-19 situation while wearing sunglasses. His flamboyant approach stands in marked contrast to the more serious tone struck by many members of parliament.
But his proposal to engage in fisticuffs with the country’s leader is a new level of boldness. He has been at it since Friday, as Thailand deals with its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and amid a slow-going vaccine rollout that has come under scrutiny for its heavy reliance on China’s Sinovac jab.
If he wins the bout, Mongkolkit said authorities will have to secure Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, give financial aid to families of people who died of COVID-19, and make small donations to patients who recovered.
Mongkolkit also wants Prayut to resign, but said he would step down as an MP if he lost their match.
Formerly the head of the armed forces, Prayut took power in a 2014 coup and stayed on after elections in 2019 that observers said were deeply flawed. He faced down mass protests calling for his resignation last year.
“The idea didn't come to me in any way in particular. I’ve just observed that the country is in crisis… so this is what I had to resort to,” Mongkolkit told VICE World News. “I don’t have any beef with him on a personal level, but this is about responsibility. I have to do this for the people.”
Mongkolkit first made the announcement in a Facebook post. Over the weekend, he took to his social media accounts to keep pushing it. His posts have included photos or videos of himself training at a Muay Thai gym.
He and the 67-year-old Prayut are of the same height and weight class, Mongkolkit said. But because the prime minister is 27 years his senior, the MP said he would only use his right hand if they did fight in a match with three 3-minute rounds.
He gave Prayut 10 days to decide whether to accept the challenge and rejected the labor minister’s offer to stand in for the premier, insisting that no one could fight in his place.
Unsurprisingly, the premier has not weighed in on the subject.
The Thai public, meanwhile, has responded with glee. On Friday night, a TV program aired a video of Mongkolkit practicing Muay Thai alone, and of Prayut throwing ceremonial punches and kicks, and sparring at another event.
Critics are not impressed with Mongkolkit’s stunt, and an MP from Prayut’s ruling Palang Pracharath Party pointed out that the challenge may actually breach a law on threatening the country’s prime minister, or that it could even be considered defamation, reported the Bangkok Post.
Asked about the backlash, Mongkolkit said he remains unconcerned because his challenge has nothing to do with the law. He compared it to a similarly unusual incident last year in which an opposition MP challenged the prime minister to a duel with pistols.
“It’s just the way of men,” Mongkolkit said.
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