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On Tuesday (18 June), parliament voted to pass at the first reading 4 bills proposing amendments to the Public Referendum Act so that referendums will no longer require a double majority.

The 2021 Referendum Act requires a double majority to be passed: voter turnout must be more than half of all eligible voters, and more than half of the turnout must vote in favour.

The 4 bills were proposed by the Cabinet, the Pheu Thai Party, the Move Forward Party, and the Bhumjaithai Party. The Cabinet, Pheu Thai, and Move Forward versions amend the Public Referendum Act so that a double majority will no longer be required, while Bhumjaithai proposed that a double majority will be required only for referendums involving constitutional amendments.

Pheu Thai MP Chusak Sirinil noted that less than half of all eligible voters turned out for general elections. He said that referendums are conducted on specific issues and people who are not interested might not vote, so the number of those who do not vote should not be taken into account.

Meanwhile, Move Forward MP Parit Wacharasindhu said that requiring a double majority means those who are against the issue in question have an unfair advantage. Those who seek a ‘no’ vote in a referendum can simply not vote or campaign for people not to participate in the referendum, he said.

Parit said that Move Forward is also proposing that a vote in favour requires the number of people who vote in favour to be more than half of the voter turnout.

Bhumjaithai MP Paradorn Prissananantakul said that constitutional amendments require a consensus from the public, and so a double majority should still be required in referendums on such cases. If voter turnout is too low, he said, it could damage the credibility of the new Constitution.

Paradorn said, however, that he understands it is difficult to get more than half of all eligible voters to vote in a referendum. He said that Bhumjaithai is happy to discuss at the committee level possible relaxation of the requirement, such as requiring one third of all eligible voters to vote instead of half.

The four bills also proposed to amend the Act to allow a referendum to take place on the same day as a general or local election to save budget and so that voters do not have to vote many times.

Parit said that Move Forward’s version of the bill will ensure that voters who wish to propose a referendum question to the Cabinet will be able to submit electronic signatures, since the Election Commission of Thailand now requires signatures submitted for such a petition to be on paper.

The four bills will now be forwarded to an ad-hoc committee, which will work on them before returning a combined version to parliament. 

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