By KAS CHANWANPEN
The members voted 213 to zero with four abstentions. The bill was passed after almost 14 hours of deliberations on Thursday.
In the second reading of the bill, the stipulation deferring its enforcement by three months after the law is published in the Royal Gazette was passed with 196 votes for, 12 against, and 14 abstentions. As a result of the new law, the next election, tentatively scheduled for November this year, could now be delayed until February next year.
The majority of the law vetting committee members reasoned that political parties needed the additional time to make changes in accordance with the new regulations. For instance, they would need to hold primary elections. Also, new members would not be eligible to contest in the election unless their membership was at least 90 days old, the legislators argued.
Some NLA members proposed an even longer postponement – by 150 to 180 days.
The lawmakers also spent considerable time debating punishment for those failing to exercise their voting rights, as well as the appropriateness of using entertainment in election campaigns.
The law vetting committee had proposed that voters who did not exercise their franchise should be disqualified from serving in some areas of the government sector such as in Parliament. The legislators, however, disagreed, saying the punishment was disproportionate and deprived people of their rights.
Not voting was not necessarily a lack of interest in politics but could be a way of expressing discontent, they argued. The NLA eventually voted to only take away their right to appoint political officials and heads of local administration offices.
The NLA also voted to allow entertainment or recreational activities during election campaigns, but capped the spending on such activities at 20 per cent of the total campaign budget. The charter drafters had sought a ban on entertainment activities in election campaigns, arguing it could be used for vote-buying and corruption.
Other legislators viewed it as an attraction to draw people to take part in political activities. Following the passage of the bill, it would now be sent to the Election Commission and the Constitution Drafting Commission for review. After getting their nod, it would be sent to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to seek royal endorsement.
If the two commissions disagreed, a joint committee would be set up to revise the law. The NLA continued deliberating on the organic bill on the composition of the Senate yesterday. It was the last one of the 10 organic laws.
The Democratic Restoration Group, meanwhile, announced a symbolic gathering today against the National Council for Peace and Order to protest against the likely postponement of the election following the passage of the MPs election bill.
The group said this was the junta’s idea to buy time to campaign for their votes and cling on to power.
They called on interested persons to join them on the Skywalk at the Pathumwan intersection from 5.30pm.
Key facts in MP election bill
Entertainment activities allowed during election campaigns
Campaigning through social media allowed
Debates to be organised only by the Election Commission
Campaign banners can be erected at designated locations only
Candidates of the same party may get different election numbers
No refund of the Bt10,000 election application fee
Election campaign budget of MP candidates will be set separately from the party’s budget
Winning candidate must get the most number of votes, which must be more than the total “No Vote”.
Balloting will take place from 7am to 5pm
Casting of votes through other means allowed
People can notify authorities about election fraud
Transport of voters across province boundaries banned
Political rights will be revoked if people don’t do their election duty
Severe penalties to be imposed