House to seek charter court ruling on budget bill's validity

House to seek charter court ruling on budget bill's validity

Inquiry confirms absent MP left voting card in slot

The 3.2-trillion-baht budget bill for fiscal 2020 was debated in the parliament before it sailed through its third reading, with most opposition MPs abstaining. (File photo)
The 3.2-trillion-baht budget bill for fiscal 2020 was debated in the parliament before it sailed through its third reading, with most opposition MPs abstaining. (File photo)

The House of Representatives plans to ask the Constitutional Court rule whether the 3.2-trillion-baht budget bill for fiscal 2020 is valid following the revelation a Bhumjaithai Party MP cast votes for the legislation without being present in the chamber.

House secretary-general Sorasak Pienvej said on Tuesday that a committee of legal experts  investigated the alleged irregularity, and found the allegation was justified. 

The probe found Chalong Therdwirapong, a Bhumjaithai MP for Phatthalung, had voted in favour of  Sections 31 to 55 of the budget bill.

Parliament officials tasked with keeping the electronic voting cards told the panel that Mr Chalong had taken his  card for the budget debate from Jan 8-11, and did not return it, Mr Sorasak said.

The investigation found that the electronic card remained inserted in the government MP’s voting machine by his seat on Jan 11. 

However, parliament technicians could not confirm which slot the card was inserted in, whether for or against. Cameras in the chamber did not record  individuals casting their votes, Mr Sorasak said.

As the panel found the allegations were true, the MP’s votes of support for Sections 31 to 55 were not legal.

Section 139 of the constitution requires at least one-tenth of House MPs,  or 75 MPs, must support a request for a Constitutional Court ruling on the legitimacy of the fiscal legislation.

“The probe panel made some observations, that this case will not cause the bill to be invalid because it was only one vote. However, the panel respects the Constitutional Court's ruling. 

To make all procedures correct, the House of Representatives has informed House Speaker Chuan Leekpai of the inquiry's finding. The issue will be raised for consultation during the House meeting tomorrow (Wednesday). The meeting may have views that differ from those of the panel,’’  the House secretary-general said.

The irregularity was revealed by former Democrat Party MP Nipit Intarasombat, who said Chalong Therdwirapong, a Bhumjaithai MP for Phatthalung, was not in the House when his votes were registered  during the debate on Jan 10-11.

The long budget bill debate began on Jan 8. The House voted at the end of its deliberation of each section before voting on the entire bill in the third reading on Jan 11.

The 55-section budget bill sailed through the final reading with 253 votes in favour, zero against and 196 abstentions. 

Mr Nipit claimed Mr Chalong used his electronic card to vote without being present in parliament. The Bhumjaithai MP was in Phatthalung at the time. 

On Monday, Mr Chalong admitted he had left the House meeting to attend a funeral on Jan 10 and forgot to take his electronic voting card with him.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit, who is the Democrat Party leader, declined to comment on Mr Nipit’s exposure of the alleged irregularity. Mr Jurin said he returned on Monday from a trip to India and had not yet talked with deputy party leader Nipit.

The Democrat leader only smiled when a reporter asked him whether he would discuss the issue with the deputy party leader.

Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader Uttama Savanayana on Tuesday shrugged off any concerns about the validity of the 3.2-trillion budget bill for fiscal 2020. 

Mr Uttama, also the finance minister, said  he would await the formal result of the investigation ordered by House Speaker Chuan Leekpai into the alleged irregularity.

In the meantime, he had ordered the party's legal team to look into the laws relating to the matter. However, he was not heavy-hearted over the issue, Mr Uttama said.

Wissanu Krea-ngam, the deputy prime minister for legal affairs, said he did not yet know all the details when asked whether the voting irregularity could invalidate the budget bill's passage. 

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, the PPRP’s chief strategist, said the alleged irregularity had nothing to do with the disbursement of the budget. When asked about Mr Nipit's remark that the irregularity invalidated the budget bill, Gen Prawit said he did not know.

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