Bill to end liquor oligopoly shot down in narrow defeat

bill to end liquor oligopoly shot down in narrow defeat

A man holds a glass of home-made beer during a rally outside Parliament on Feb 9, 2022 to support a bill to liberalise liquor production sponsored by the Move Forward Party. (Photo: Pornprom Satrabhaya)

A bill aimed at liberalising the liquor industry was narrowly rejected in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but the Move Forward Party pledged to continue the fight to open the sector to competition.

The bill to amend the Excise Tax Act was downed in two rounds of voting in the House.

The first round saw MPs vote 177-174 in favour with 11 abstentions and four no votes.

After losing by a slim margin, Move Forward MP for Bangkok Natthaphong Ruengpanyawut proposed a new vote, this time by calling each MP by name in the process.

The second vote was even closer, with 196 opposing it, 194 in favour and 15 abstentions.

‘Miracle’ must wait

Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat said after the vote the party would continue to push the issue in the next election in order to break the oligopoly in the industry.

“The Progressive Liquor Bill will remain a flagship policy of the Move Forward Party in the next election,” he said.

Although the bill was voted down, he said: “The party has set the momentum on the issue.”

Thaopipob Limjarakorn, another MP for Bangkok who was the main sponsor, said he had no excuses for the loss and was determined to continue the fight.

“The two-vote difference should not be an excuse,” he said. “In fact, I hoped for a small miracle before I stepped out of my home this morning,” he added.

Government tactic

The defeat comes after the government on Tuesday suddenly approved a draft regulation from the Finance Ministry to loosen curbs on liquor production by small-scale distillers.

It was published in the Royal Gazette on the same day to pave the way for the cabinet approval to come into effect on Wednesday.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri hailed the revised version, saying it relaxed regulations to allow people to produce liquor, while Deputy Prime Minister Vissanu Krea-ngram branded the Move Forward edition “too liberal”.

Move Forward argued that the amendment was merely a cosmetic change because of the conditions attached.

“The ministerial amendment does not unlock (the industry to competition). It is a new lock,” the party said.

Mr Pita questioned the motive behind the government’s hasty push for the change as it took place only one day before the crucial vote in the House.

The government had done nothing for eight years, the party leader said. “Amending the ministerial regulation on liquor production one day before the vote showed the intention to use this as a pretext to vote down the bill,” he said.