Parties eye referendum law revamp

Parties eye referendum law revamp

Pheu Thai, MFP share flaw-fix views

Parties eye referendum law revamp
Democracy Monument in Bangkok is lit up amid an evening sky. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The country’s largest parties, Move Forward and Pheu Thai, have found common ground in rectifying flaws in the law governing a referendum, a necessary prelude to amending the constitution.

Representatives of the ruling Pheu Thai Party and the main opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) joined together in presenting two draft bills to alter the Referendum Act — one initiated by the coalition parties and the other sponsored by the opposition bloc — to House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha on Thursday.

The bills are being lined up for deliberation by parliament and will subsequently be merged into one draft during the scrutiny stage.

Mr Wan said he expected parliament to finish rectifying the Referendum Act sooner rather than later as the current ordinary House session goes into recess in two months.

Chusak Sirinil, a Pheu Thai list MP and legal expert, said 129 Pheu Thai members signed up to support the coalition government-initiated bill.

He said the act contains three critical faults which make the charter almost impossible to amend.

Most parties have advocated amendments to the charter, which they branded the product of the coup-engineer National Council for Peace and Order. They insisted changes were vital to democratise the charter.

Mr Chusak said on Thursday that the faults with the charter lie with the double majority requirement, the lack of flexibility to hold a referendum on the same day as a general election, and the ban on an online vote in a referendum.

The MFP also outlines the faults. Before a charter rewrite, it is expected that up to three referendum rounds must be held, with each round requiring the “double majority” rule — more than 50% of eligible voters must participate, and a majority of those voting must approve it.

Mr Chusak said the rule was conducive to a referendum collapse in the event of a low turnout.

“Pheu Thai has agreed on changes that would see a referendum approved with the votes in favour exceeding the votes of abstention,” he said.

The ruling party is also rallying behind the referendum being organised on the same day as a general election to save on costs.

Three stand-alone referendums will cost 10.5 billion baht, according to Sen Somchai Sawangkarn.

Mr Chusak also said the referendum votes should be permitted to be cast online, as opposed to the current vote-in-person requirement.

He added the EC must be bound by the law to provide equal access and opportunities for people who agree or disagree with the referendum question to air their views.

MFP list MP Parit Wacharasindhu seconded Pheu Thai’s proposed three areas of changes to the referendum law. “We might be standing on opposite sides in parliament, but that doesn’t stop us joining hands on issues we agree on,” he said.