Thailand: Budget bill not out of woods yet

  • The government has breathed a sigh of relief now that the budget expenditure bill has cleared its first hurdle.
  • The bill was the first decisive test of solidarity of a government sitting on a very thin majority. It also served as a gauge measuring the extent of the opposition’s potency in grilling the government over its national spending plans.
  • However, the next phase of the bill will be seen as a barometer of how well the opposition can make good on its pledge to trim proposed budget expenditure.
  • In the vote that concluded the three day budget debate, 251 MPs were in favour, 234 abstained while no MP voted against the bill.
  • Even though the government won the first round in practice, the opposition came out of it more favourably. According to a Suan Dusit Poll, the opposition was given 6.94 out of 10 possible points — compared to the government’s 5.11 — in the debate.
  • The 2020 budget bill governing the THB3.2bn spending plan will now move to the most crucial stage of the legislative process — scrutiny — and the opposition will have to prove its worth by pushing for a successful expurgation of the “fat” and the “unwarranted” content in the national spending blueprint, according to political experts.
  • Large, medium and small parties represented in parliament were each given seats on the budget scrutiny panel in proportion to their size in the Lower House. The main opposition party, Pheu Thai, was allocated the biggest quota of panel members, followed by the ruling Palang Pracharath Party and Future Forward Party.
  • Some opposition members said they are anxious that if they vote against the bill they could be construed as turning their backs on the proposed national budget.
  • Some MPs insisted they fear the wrath of their constituents if they reject a budget bill which will ultimately provide an injection of funds for various developmental projects.
  • Opposition chief whip Sutin Klangsang has said the bill always looked set to pass its first reading but called for changes to be made.
  • “We hope [the government] will improve the draft bill in the second reading. We don’t want to see a House dissolution or the cabinet stepping down as a result of this. It was difficult for us to vote for the bill, but we couldn’t reject it arbitrarily out of concern for the country.
  • “We’ve given the government a chance. We’ve granted the bill its first passage. In the second reading, we’ll do our best to revise and improve the bill. We’ll vote for it if it’s improved but if it isn’t, we’ll shoot it down in the third reading,” he said.

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