House accepts 4 bills to alter referendums
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House accepts 4 bills to alter referendums

The House of Representatives on Tuesday accepted for consideration four bills seeking to amend the Referendum Act at their first reading, as part of efforts to make it easier to amend the constitution.

A total of 450 MPs voted in favour, with one abstention. A 31-member panel was set up to vet the bills. The bills were tabled separately by the cabinet, the ruling Pheu Thai Party, the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP), and the Bhumjaithai Party.

They share a common goal of removing the "double majority" requirement under the Referendum Act and favour only a single majority or more than half of the votes cast.

Section 13 of the Referendum Act requires two specific conditions be met before a referendum result can be considered binding. First, more than 50% of eligible voters must have participated in the vote, and then the majority of those who cast votes must approve it.

The rule has been criticised for making it tough for a referendum to achieve the minimum requirement and for standing in the way of the smooth passage of essential laws, particularly bills seeking to amend the constitution.

During the House session, several MPs also proposed that there should only be one referendum question, which should be easy for voters to understand rather than cause confusion.

Pheu Thai list-MP Chaturon Chaisang said that apart from seeking to remove the double majority rule, the Pheu Thai-sponsored bill also wants to amend the Referendum Act to allow campaigns by those who agree or disagree with a referendum question. "The bills are crucial to amending the constitution to pave the way for a charter-drafting assembly to be established and ensure the Referendum Act will not obstruct charter amendments," he said.

MFP MP Parit Wacharasindhu said the "double majority" requirement means those who disagreed with amending the charter crafted by the previous military regime would simply stay home rather than take part in a referendum to vote against it.

The double majority gives those who disagree with any changes proposed in the referendum a loophole through which they can ignore the matter and eventually let the referendum fall by the wayside. "If people disagree with the questions [posed in the referendum], instead of voting against them, they may choose to stay home. If the participation requirement fails, the referendum is rejected," he said.

He also said the MFP will propose a motion on what question should be posed in a referendum after amendments to the Referendum Act are approved by parliament. Deputy Pheu Thai leader Chusak Sirinil said his party's bill seeks to restore a single majority used on the 2017 charter.

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