S44 panel vote on knife-edge
Coalition corrals MPs after shock defeat
The House of Representatives will on Wednesday vote again on a motion to set up a committee to scrutinise Section 44, after the previous vote ended in a shock defeat for the government following conflicts within the coalition.
All eyes will be on Wednesday's revote on the opposition motion, proposed by Future Forward Party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, to establish a panel on the impact of orders issued under Section 44.
Last Wednesday, the government whip invoked parliament regulation No.85 to call for a new vote. The opposition had previously edged the ruling coalition camp by four votes -- 234-230 -- with two abstentions and one absentee.
The revote proposal prompted MPs to stage a walkout in protest, forcing the session to be adjourned due to lack of a quorum.
Last Thursday, a second revote attempt collapsed after the House session failed to draw the required number of MPs.
This prompted core coalition party Palang Pracharath (PPRP) to call a meeting on Tuesday in a bid to ensure all coalition MPs attend Wednesday's meeting and toe the government line.
The meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. He said on Tuesday that he was not concerned about the possible launch of the scrutiny panel, reasoning that Section 44 orders issued by him were in line with the law. Section 44 gave him special executive powers as leader of the post-coup National Council for Peace and Order regime.
The government was defeated in the first vote after six Democrat Party MPs rebelled against the coalition line and voted for the opposition motion.
A Democrat Party source said the rebellion was in retaliation for the PPRP's refusal to back former Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to head a House committee to study constitutional amendments.
The PPRP wants instead to nominate its party-list MP Paiboon Nititawan, who has the backing of Gen Prawit, as committee chairman, the source said.
The source said some Democrat MPs who supported the motion have close ties with Mr Abhisit, including Thepthai Senpong, an MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chaiwuti Bannawat, a Tak MP, and party-list MP Panich Vikitsreth.
Currently, the House has 498 out of its full quota of 500 MPs. Pheu Thai MP Nawat Tohcharoensuk was disqualified on Nov 14 after being convicted of murder, while PPRP lawmaker Krungsrivilai Suthinpuak is suspended from duties pending a ruling by the Supreme Court's Election Cases Division on alleged vote buying.
Wednesday's House session requires a quorum of at least 249 MPs, half of the 498, to proceed.
The coalition currently has 253 sitting MPs, though three of these may not be able to attend the meeting. Chai Chidchob, a Bhumjaithai list MP, is ill; Kiat Sitthi-amorn, a Democrat Party list MP, is recovering from heart bypass surgery; and Korn Chatikavanij, a Democrat list-MP, is still abroad, a government source said.
Their absence would leave just 250 coalition MPs, putting the meeting at risk of collapse again. Government whips have thus insisted that all 250 coalition MPs attend Wednesday's meeting "no matter what happens", the source said.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is the PPRP's chief strategist, said on Tuesday that after talks with the Democrats, he was confident the six rebel MPs would toe the coalition line and that Wednesday's House meeting will not collapse.