Prayuth Chan-ocha has refused to step down or call snap election
Thousands of people gathered in Bangkok to call for the resignation of prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha ahead of a no-confidence vote.
Protests against the leader have gathered steam since late June as university students who sought his removal last year returned with broader support from other political groups and people angered by a worsening coronavirus situation.
Speaking in parliament on the last day of a house censure debate, in which politicians challenged Mr Prayuth and five ministers over their handling of the crisis, the premier said he would neither resign nor call a snap election.
“Even though Thailand is not the best at handling Covid-19, it isn’t the worst,” he told parliament on Friday.
He added: “We have handle it to the best our ability by all those concerned.”
A big rally is planned for Saturday when parliament is due to hold the no-confidence vote over his government’s handling of the pandemic.
The vote is expected to go the prime minister’s way because of his coalition’s clear majority in the house.
Former army chief and 2014 coup leader, Mr Prayuth and his ministers have rejected the opposition’s allegations of corruption, economic mismanagement and a bungled coronavirus response.
The overwhelming majority of Thailand’s 1.24 million cases and 12,374 deaths came after April, following a year of successful containment.
It has since been hit by the Alpha and Delta variants and has struggled to get hold of enough vaccines.
Activists vowed to defy a coronavirus ban on big gatherings and stage street protests daily until Mr Prayuth leaves office.
“People have died from his failure to deal with Covid-19, from his complacence, arrogance and from not listen to people’s voices, making it difficult for people to live,” student activist Wanwalee Thammasattaya said.
Police revealed more than 600 people face protest-related charges for various violations in July and August.
Additional reporting by Reuters