Thailand’s House of Representatives passed the budget Bill for the 2020 financial year on Saturday after four days of intense debate – and four months later than it is usually voted in. The 3.2 trillion baht (S$142.7 billion) budget was passed with 253 votes for and zero against while 196 MPs abstained and one did not cast a vote. It was the biggest budget in the country’s history, 200 billion baht higher than last year’s.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the House after the vote: “I would like to assure you that the approved budget will be managed with transparency.” Dr Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political science professor at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, noted: “The opposition is no longer a problem for the government. Now it’s the opposition that needs to worry. “Also, all the MPs need to get the budget Bill passed as they would need budgets to work in their constituencies anyway.”
The government coalition held a razor-thin majority in the 500-member Lower House a few months ago with just 251 seats in the 500-seat Lower chamber but the grouping, which comprises 18 parties, now holds 259 seats against the opposition’s 240. This is thanks to two by-election victories and six new MPs joining the coalition – two independents and four expelled from Future Forward for voting against the party.
A no-confidence motion is expected to take place early this year, but the government could sail through the hearing if the Constitutional Court rules on Jan 21 to dissolve Future Forward, the third-best performing party in the March election, over its alleged links with the secret society Illuminati. The party has 75 seats.
The budget debate was originally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday but was extended to Saturday. It almost collapsed on Thursday night when opposition MPs boycotted the debate by removing their smart cards, causing the system to register them as absent. This came after their failed request to extend the debate until next week, saying that many issues were not yet covered. The protest still left 253 MPs in the House, enough for the debate to continue as the required quorum was set at 250, or half of the House.
“I don’t want to get this Bill passed, but the country’s economy can only move forward with an artery that is the budget Bill we are working on,” said Mr Suthin Klangsaeng, the opposition’s chief whip, on Saturday. The main topics of intense debate included the 124.4 billion baht defence budget, well down on the initial proposal of 233.25 billion baht, the army’s conscription budget and its plan to buy new artillery. Last year’s defence budget was 227.67 billion baht.