Final meet on poll bill collapses

Final meet on poll bill collapses

Minnows seek ruling on list MP formula

Representatives and senators meet at the parliament on Monday. (Photo: National Assembly Radio and Television Broadcasting Station)
Representatives and senators meet at the parliament on Monday. (Photo: National Assembly Radio and Television Broadcasting Station)

Small parties will ask the Constitutional Court to rule if the use of the number 100 to calculate party-list seats is against the constitution, after the amended version of an election bill supporting the use of 500 as divisor failed to clear parliament on Monday.

MPs and senators were supposed to finish deliberating the organic bill on the election of MPs on Monday, as the matter had to be decided in 180 days.

According to Section 132 of the constitution, if the deadline passes without parliament's endorsement in the third and final reading, the original draft will be adopted.

The original version, sponsored by the cabinet and drafted by the Election Commission (EC), proposed the use of 100 in the calculation.

A joint sitting last Thursday -- which was supposed to be the last on the bill -- collapsed due to a lack of quorum, in what was believed to be a deliberate move to derail the bill's passage after the number 500 was adopted to calculate party-list seats in the second reading last month.

The collapse of the session drew widespread criticism of MPs and senators, prompting Parliament President Chuan Leekpai to order a special meeting for Monday to give lawmakers one last chance to review the bill.

However, as widely speculated, Monday's meeting was cancelled about half an hour into the session, once again due to the lack of quorum.

Ravee Maschamadol, leader of the small New Palang Dharma Party (NPDP), said on Monday small parties will petition the Constitutional Court on Friday.

If the court agrees to hear the petition and rules that the use of 100 in the calculation is legitimate, the controversy will be put to rest, he said.

In the next election, the total number of votes each party gets will be divided by the number 100 or 500 to determine the number of party list seats each will get.

The figure, 100, derives from the total number of party-list MPs while 500 includes all of the constituency MPs as well.

Small parties prefer the use of 500 as it would be easier for them to win a list seat using a larger number as divisor.

Dr Ravee said it was hard to believe the meeting collapsed again because the chief government whip had given his assurances that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader Prawit Wongsuwon, had told the party's MPs to attend the meeting.

However, only a handful of PPRP MPs turned up for it, he said.

Only nine MPs from the PPRP and 10 MPs from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party were present at the meeting. Also absent were 99 senators.

Monday's joint meeting got off to a troubling start.

The session had to be postponed for over an hour until the meeting quorum was met, with 165 senators and 200 MPs present. But when a vote on the organic bill was called about half an hour later, only 353 were present, bringing the session to an abrupt end.

Mr Chuan told the chamber that because parliament was unable to meet the deadline, the original version of the bill will be adopted.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is the government's legal expert, said the original version will be submitted to the EC for further examination before it is forwarded for royal endorsement.

However, the poll agency won't need to spend much time vetting the bill because it had prepared the draft, he said.

That said, if the court finds parts of the bill to be unconstitutional, then the EC will prepare a new draft, he said.

Gen Prawit, who was in Saraburi on a trip on Monday, distanced himself from the quorum drama. "No, I didn't know. The meeting collapsed? Already?" he said.

Sathit Pitutecha, chair of the House panel scrutinising the organic bill, said the switch to the use of 500 as the divisor was to blame for the meeting's collapse.

Mr Sathit called it a tactic to stall the third and final reading of the bill until the 180-day deadline expired so that the initial draft would be automatically reinstated.

Asked about the planned petition by small parties, Pheu Thai leader Cholnan Srikaew said he believed the risk of the court ruling against the use of 100 as the divisor was low.

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