October 19, 2019 / 4:45 PM / 24 days ago

Thai government survives key test with budget vote

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s coalition government, led by a former military junta leader, survived a key parliamentary challenge on Saturday after opponents abstained to let the first reading of its draft 2020 budget bill through.

Defeat would have forced the government to either resign or dissolve parliament according to the constitution.

The bill passed with 251 votes, 234 lawmakers abstained and one person did not vote. There were 486 lawmakers present in the lower house.

The vote came after three days of debate and was a test for the 16-party coalition government that has a wafer-thin majority in the 500-member house.

However, the draft bill still has to go through second and third readings in January before being submitted for royal approval. Opposition politicians, who say the budget allotment was not fairly distributed, could demand changes at these later stages.

The proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 is for 3.2 trillion baht ($105.68 billion), a 6% increase from 2019.

Opposition politicians have criticized the government for a 10% increase in the central budget that can be allocated at the discretion of the former junta leader, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. They are also unhappy with a 2.7% increase in the defense budget that has risen continuously since the military seized power in 2014.

The opposition said it did not oppose the bill because the budget had already been delayed following elections earlier this year.

“To vote in favor is troubling but I cannot vote against it because I am worried about the people,” said Sutin Klangsang, a member of parliament for the Pheu Thai Party and chief whip for the opposition.

“I hope we can improve things,” he added. “If nothing is done then we will vote against you in the third reading and who knows what will happen in the election.”

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Christina Fincher

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