The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Friday voted to pass the organic bill on the selection of 250 senators with the number of groups of candidates vying for Senate seats reduced by half during the second reading.
The NLA voted 196-7 with seven abstentions to pass the bill in the third and final reading on Friday night.
The change to the groups of candidates involved Section 11 of the bill which introduced a system of cross-voting among 20 social and professional groups of candidates. In the final reading, the number of groups of candidates was reduced to 10 social and professional groups and the NLA also decided against the cross-voting and opted instead for voting within the social and professional groups.
Section 107 of the constitution says that 200 senators are to be selected by candidates voting among themselves but it leaves the details to be addressed in the organic bill. The regime will handpick another 50 senators.
During an earlier examination of the organic bill by the NLA’s scrutiny panel chaired by Somkid Lertpaitoon, the majority had agreed to reduce the number of groups of candidates to 15 from 20, which was the number originally proposed by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).
The bill, the last of 10 organic bills drafted by the CDC, was tabled to the NLA for second and third readings on Friday.
During the second reading of the draft law, some NLA members suggested that the number of groups of candidates be reduced further. The call prompted Mr Somkid to propose a further cut from 15 to 10.
The proposed change triggered a lengthy debate among the lawmakers who could not come to an agreement. After three hours, NLA president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai ordered a 20-minute break and asked panel members to resolve their differences.
NLA member Wanlop Tangkhananurak, who argued against the proposed reduction, said the Somkid panel failed to explain why the number of groups of candidates should be cut.
“I can’t see why 10 groups would be better than 20. I don’t see any reasons except that it is convenient to calculate. In my opinion, having 20 groups or 10 groups won’t complicate calculations,” he said.
Mr Wanop insisted that convenience was not a good enough reason to justify the reduction.
Udom Rathamarit, a CDC member attending the legislative scrutiny, said the charter writers came up with 20 groups to ensure diversity and inclusiveness in line with Section 107 of the charter and the number was concluded based on the results of public hearings.
He said the higher the number of groups, the more diverse the senators would be and the Senate should reflect the diversity of their respective backgrounds.
“We took into consideration the wide public participation and a better distribution [of candidates across professional and social backgrounds].
We disagree with the majority’s claim that more groups will lead to lobbying and collusion,” he said.
Mr Somkid, however, insisted that no groups would be left out even if the number was reduced from 20 to 10.
Ten social and professional groups of candidates are national administration and security; law and justice; education; agriculture; the private sector; environment affairs; small and medium enterprises; women, elderly, people with disabilities, ethnic groups; and culture and arts.