New charter provisions likely to spur historic changes in Thai politics

New charter provisions likely to spur historic changes in Thai politics

New provisions that drafters added to the new charter yesterday will lead to historic changes in Thailand's electoral system by giving a "fair chance" to all political parties and groups of different sizes.

Provisions creating a mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system along with several other new electoral rules including an "open-list" system of voting for party-list MPs and allowing the introduction of "political groups" to contest elections were added under the Parliament section.

General Lertrat Ratanavanich, spokesman for the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), said "this is one of the most important changes in the election system in recent times".

Under the newly drafted section, the House of Representatives will have some 450 members, 250 of who will be constituency MPs and 200 to 220 party-list MPs.

Constituency MP candidates will compete under the single-winner, first-past-the-post rule, as per the 1997 constitution.

However, party-list MPs will have to undergo an "open-list" system, in which voters will be given the authority to influence the order in which candidates are listed.

Under this provision, voters will be able to choose their most preferred candidate, who will be listed according to the number of votes he or she can garner.

This system replaces the "closed-list" system, in which voters had no influence in a candidate's ranking.

The charter drafters' intention in introducing the open-list system is to create a mechanism for people to become more involved with the political parties they support, which in effect will cut down the influence and powers of party leaders and make parties more democratic.

Some CDC members raised concerns about implementation of the open-list rule, with one person saying that if for some reason only a small proportion of voters named their preferred candidate, then the resulting list may not truly reflect voters' choice of candidates.

But drafters eventually decided to go ahead with the open-list rule, though one pointed out that the goal should be shifted from creating strong, democratic political parties to creating a power mechanism for people in the affairs of political parties.

"Since 1978, there have been moves to create strong, democratic political parties - parties that have strong principles.

However, we failed in this," a CDC member said, before asking: "Can anybody name a single party that is truly democratic?"

Another provision also states that MP candidates can be members of political groups, derived from professional associations and foundations.

While discussing this provision, a CDC member said he did not wish to see different types of existing associations get involved in politics because they may subsequently lose support.

In the end, drafters decided that two types of associations - political and non-political - could be registered with the Interior Ministry.

The CDC's move to allow different political groups to run in elections is part of efforts to prevent future parliamentary dictatorship by offering new alternatives to voters, which would allow some seats to be taken from established parties.

This provision, along with the new MPP system, will most likely result in the creation of several medium-sized parties, and remove the opportunity for a single party to dominate the Parliament.

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