Opposition to sit out budget bill re-vote

Opposition to sit out budget bill re-vote

Govt now facing quorum challenge

The opposition has announced it will stay out of the House meeting on the budget bill, essentially leaving the government with its razor-thin coalition to scramble for enough votes to pass the key legislation.

The six-party bloc led by Pheu Thai Party convened on Wednesday and announced it won't be attending the House meeting on the 3.2-trillion-baht budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which will take place later today.

Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang said the opposition will not take part in the House meeting to give the government a free hand in voting for the bill.

Today's meeting comes after the Constitutional Court ordered a re-vote, following revelations of illegal proxy voting during the budget's second and third readings.

At least two government MPs were found to have voted on the bill's second and third readings on Jan 10 and 11, without actually being present in the chamber.

The court was then asked to rule if the entire bill should be invalidated on account of the proxy votes, and last week it ordered a re-vote on the second and third readings.

On Tuesday, Future Forward Party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul said the court may have overstepped the mark when it made its ruling. The court was petitioned to decide whether the bill should be dropped or enacted in its entirety, in light of the proxy voting.

"It was not within the court's remit to rule if the bill was constitutional or not," according to Mr Piyabutr.

Mr Sutin concurred and said on Tuesday that because the opposition felt the ruling's legality may be in doubt, it will not join today's House meeting and "be a party to a potentially illegitimate action".

However, yesterday Mr Sutin did not cite doubts about the court's ruling as grounds for refusing to attend today's House meeting.

"We are opening the way for the government [to get it passed] by not participating in the meeting and not re-debating the bill. That should be expedite the passage of the legislation," he said.

However, the opposition's absence from the meeting will be a test of the government's ability to muster enough MPs to achieve the quorum needed to pass the bill. At least 250 MPs, about half of the House of Representatives, must attend the session to be valid.

However, the government may find reaching the quorum a challenge as a number of MPs have been disqualified recently over legal violations.

The government has a small majority in the House, although it might receive some support from the New Economics Party, which bills itself as an independent opposition party. That said, one of its six MPs and former party leader Mingkwan Sangsuwan, has vowed to stick with the opposition.

Separately, Pheu Thai's secretary-general Anudit Nakhontap is calling for MPs who engaged in proxy voting to resign from the House.

Two Bhumjaithai MPs, Chalong Therdwiraong and Natee Ratchakitprakarn, voted to pass the budget without being present in the House on Jan 10-11. A video aired on Channel 7 also showed Prim Pooncharoen, of the Palang Pracharath Party, and Somboon Zarum of the Bhumjaithai Party inserting more than one card in the voting machine.

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