Thai Parliament Votes to Change Electoral System

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-09-10
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Thai Parliament Votes to Change Electoral System Thai protesters ride in a convoy past the Democracy Monument during an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok, Sept. 10, 2021.
AFP

Thailand’s parliament on Friday approved a constitutional amendment bill to change the election system which analysts said could favor bigger parties including one backing Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha while proving advantageous to the opposition Pheu Thai Party as well. 

The joint session of the parliament voted for the bill 472 to 33, while 187 lawmakers abstained.

“The constitutional amendment bill which the parliament has passed will change the electoral system from a one-ballot system to a two-ballot system,” said Jurin Laksanawisit, deputy prime minister and leader of the Democrat Party. 

The two ballots include one for candidates in single-seat constituencies and another for the political party of the voter’s choice.

The number of representatives to be directly elected will increase by 50 to 400 while the number of members to be appointed through proportional representation by party choice votes will fall by 50 to 100, said Laksanawisit, who proposed the bill. 

The bill amending the constitution will be sent to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for his endorsement. If he endorses, it will be put before the nation’s 51 million voters in a referendum which must occur before the 2023 general election.

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of Move Forward Party, the second-largest opposition party, said his members abstained to protest Prayuth maneuvering to retain power. Still, his party supported the two-ballot system “because it is clear and fair.”

“We support the transparent and fair calculation of the party-list MPs,” he said after the vote.

The amendment is expected to benefit the two biggest parties – the ruling Palang Pracharath backed by the military and the main opposition Pheu Thai – analysts have said.

“The new system will benefit the two bigger parties … because they have resources to field candidates in all constituencies. So, they stand a chance to gain more MPs,” said Thannapat Jarenpanit, a political science lecturer at the Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University.

“However, the amendment still allows Prayuth and the junta to retain power because the Senate still has the power to pick a prime minister,” he told BenarNews.

The 250 senators are not elected but appointed by the military.

Prayuth, who took power after leading a 2014 military coup to overthrow the democratic government of Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected prime minister by parliament following the 2019 general election despite allegations it was rigged to keep the junta in power.

Protesters want more action

The bill falls short of the constitutional overhaul demanded by pro-democracy demonstrators.

“There must be a change to give more power to the people by empowering the house representatives and also to elect senators,” Piyarat Chongthep, a security leader with WeVo (We Volunteer), a loosely formed protest group, told BenarNews. “I hope the representatives who come after this amendment will draft another bill to overhaul the constitution.”

Since July 2020, protesters in Bangkok have called for Prayuth to step down, the constitution be rewritten and the monarchy be reformed. Many of those who spearhead the demonstrations have been charged with Lese-Majeste, a royal defamation law which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years per count.

Last week, Prayuth survived a no-confidence vote for the third time as civilian leader. The government faced allegations of corruption, economic mismanagement and a bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since then, Prayuth removed two of his ministers, including his party’s secretary-general, from the cabinet. Thammanat Prompao, who served as deputy agriculture minister, was removed after being suspected of trying to plot Prayuth’s ouster in the no-confidence vote, according to local media.

Thailand has seen a massive outbreak of the far more contagious Delta variant in the last several months.

The country has recorded more than 1.35 million confirmed cases and almost 14,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year, according to the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration, a government task force.

Most of the infections and related fatalities have occurred since April, according to health officials who noted only about 17 percent of Thailand’s more than 66 million people have been fully vaccinated.

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