House-Senate whips urged to meet on election bill before it lapses
Tripartite whips were urged on Thursday to reach a solution on an organic law governing MP elections so that the vetted bill can be enacted within the 180-day deadline by August 15.
House-Senate committee spokesman Somchai Srisutthiyakorn made the call after a joint meeting of MPs and senators to discuss the election bill in its final reading collapsed on Wednesday due to a lack of quorum.
The charter requires Parliament to pass the bill within 180 days after the first reading commences. The deadline is August 15.
Somchai said whips of the coalition, the opposition and the Senate must first hold a meeting and reach a consensus as to whether they want to pass the bill in the final reading.
If they want the bill to pass, Somchai said House Speaker and Parliament President Chuan Leekpai can call a special meeting from Saturday to Monday to have it discussed in the final reading.
If the whips fail to reach an agreement, it will be useless for a special joint meeting to be called to deliberate on the bill again because the opponents would use the same tactic of quorum checking to derail the enactment, Somchai pointed out.
The bone of contention is the method to calculate party-list House seats. The original bill, which was drafted by the Election Commission (EC), proposed a figure of 100 or the number of all party-list seats to divide the overall party-list votes cast by voters for allocating MP seats.
However, during the vetting, the coalition and senators flexed their majority muscle to amend the draft to change the divider to 500, which is the number of all MPs – both constituency and party-list MPs.
Micro-parties prefer the 500 divider because it would ensure they win at least one House seat. But major parties, especially opposition leader Pheu Thai, prefer 100 so they could reap a larger share of party-list House seats.
The Pheu Thai cried foul that the 500 divider was aimed at preventing it from winning a landside victory in the next election to be held after the current House completes its four-year tenure in March.
It has been reported that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party initially supported the 100-divider method but Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha allegedly changed his stance over fears the Pheu Thai would win a landslide victory. It was also claimed that Prayut supported the 500-divider method in exchange for gaining votes from micro parties during the recent censure debate.
“All sides should review their stance, whether they want the vetted bill to be passed or not. In particular, the coalition must answer this question. It cannot solely blame the opposition for the lack of quorum,” said Somchai, a Seri Ruam Thai Party member and a former EC commissioner.
“The three whips must discuss this or will they leave a shameful heritage behind,” he warned.
In the scenario that the vetted bill fails to meet the deadline, the original draft must be sent to the EC for reconsideration, Somchai said.
If the original draft is considered to be good enough, it will be put on a five-day wait before being sent to the prime minister to forward it for a royal command and enactment.
If the EC sees that certain changes should be made in line with views of the vetting panel, the election watchdog can send it back to Parliament for the changes before it goes to the prime minister, Somchai said.
In the meantime, one tenth of MPs and senators can sign a petition to ask the Constitutional Court to rule whether the EC’s draft is constitutional or not. If the court rules in favour of the original draft, the dispute will be over for good. But if the court rules that the main principle of the bill is against the charter, the draft will lapse, Somchai added.