Thai Parliament approves change to electoral system charter

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BANGKOK (AP) – Thailand’s parliament on Friday approved a constitutional amendment changing the way lawmakers are elected, a move that is expected to allocate more seats to larger parties at the expense of smaller ones.

The change, adopted in a joint session of the House and Senate by 472 votes to 33, with 187 abstentions, comes into effect after the expected approval of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The amendment is a legacy of the long and bitter political struggle between supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire populist who was ousted from his post as prime minister by a military coup in 2006 .


The mixed member proportional system approved on Friday will give voters two separate ballots instead of the only one used in the 2019 election. One will be for their favorite candidate in single-member ridings and the other for the political party that ‘they support. Four hundred members of the House will be elected directly, while the 100 party list positions will be divided based on party preference votes nationwide.

Clauses remain in the constitution that critics accuse of being undemocratic, including the power of the unelected Senate to vote jointly with the House to elect the prime minister.

“It doesn’t matter what electoral systems we use as long as senators still have the right to vote for the prime minister. The electoral system makes almost no sense, ”tweeted Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat University in Bangkok.

Current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha took power in 2014 by leading a coup as commander of the army. He was chosen by the mixed chambers of parliament to be prime minister after the 2019 general election, which he did not run for.

Friday’s amendment to electoral rules is a return to the system implemented under a 1997 constitution that sought to disadvantage small parties that had exerted influence in forming coalition governments by trading their loyalty for political parties. Cabinet positions, thus perpetuating a system of political booty.

This change allowed Thaksin to use his fortune to bring agents of regional political power into his own party and build what his critics accused of being a parliamentary dictatorship after winning the 2001 general election.

Thaksin fled into exile after his ouster from power in 2006, but his political machine has retained its power and popularity. A 2017 constitution implemented under a military government put in place new electoral rules designed to reduce the influence of its machine by crippling major parties.

The 2017 charter provided for 350 lawmakers elected directly by their constituents and 150 from party lists under a complicated system of proportional representation that, roughly speaking, allocated seats in inverse proportion to those won by parties in the constituency vote.

The system backfired when the military-backed Palang Pracharath party performed worse than expected in 2019 and a new reformist party proved more popular than expected. Palang Pracharath was able to form a government, but only by assembling a messy coalition of small parties.


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