Govt rallies MP votes on referendum bill

The referendum bill is most likely to survive a deciding third-reading vote, according to chief government whip, Wirach Ratanasate.

“That won’t be a problem,” he said. He said he believed government MPs would rally behind the bill and push it through. Many are eager to see the bill passed, judging from the vote they gave to support changes to controversial Section 9.

The opposition defeated the government when the section was put to a vote during the second reading. The opposition’s victory has led to the section being modified to allow parliament and the public to initiate a push for a referendum to be held on a given issue with approval from the cabinet. The section authorises the public to mount a signature campaign for a referendum to be organised.

Mr Wirach said even government MPs cast their vote in favour of the opposition’s changes to the section. That is highly indicative of their willingness to get the bill enacted. He was moving to allay growing concerns the bill could sink the government if it was rejected in the third and final reading. It is because the government sponsored the bill and would have to accept responsibility by either resigning or calling for a fresh election if the legislation was shot down. “It won’t come to that,” he said.

Several senators have said that by authorising parliament and the public to trigger calls for a referendum, the section might go beyond the constitutional framework, which could provide some lawmakers with an excuse to vote against the bill.

Mr Wirach insisted that MPs enjoyed a free hand in voting. He said Senator Surachai Liangboonlertchai, who chairs the committee vetting the referendum bill, has pledged to finish reviewing it next week. Issues surrounding the bill will be settled by April 2, according to Mr Wirach.

An extraordinary parliamentary session will be convened on April 7-8 to address various bills. It is also when the referendum bill is expected to be voted on. Mr Wirach said the government typically has to face the music for rejection of significant bills such as the national budget bill. But such justification does not extend to every piece of legislation it sponsors. “If such were the standard, we would have had a change of government every month,” he said, adding concerns about the government collapsing should be laid to rest.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has asked coalition parties to join hands in voting to pass the referendum bill, said a source in the government. He made the plea during the cabinet meeting this week.

Mr Wissanu said the opposition’s defeat of Section 9 might be problematic and suggested government MPs unite to pass the bill at the third reading. They could then initiate another bill to amend the referendum bill to return it to its original version.

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