Thai Parliament passes election changes favouring ruling party

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Thailand’s Parliament passed major electoral changes favouring larger parties, a move expected to help Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s military-backed organisation amid speculation of an early election.

Most major parties in Parliament backed a set of constitutional amendments that include increasing the number of constituency representatives to 400 from 350 and bringing back an earlier system of casting two ballots – one for a candidate and another for a political party.

At a joint session of the Parliament yesterday, 472 lawmakers voted for the amendments, while 187 abstained and 33 voted against, according to a televised broadcast of the proceedings. The changes will now need an endorsement from King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The changes are the latest attempts by Thailand’s royal establishment to fine-tune election rules already heavily stacked in favour of the military and its allies, which won a vote two years ago following a lengthy process to write a constitution in the wake of a
2014 coup.

The amendments are among a number of signs pointing to another election before the government’s four-year term ends in early 2023.

Since September, protesters have staged daily gatherings to push for government reform and the resignation of Prayuth. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The amendments fall well short of the charter overhaul demanded by pro-democracy protesters, who have revived street demonstrations in recent months expressing anger over Prayut’s handling of the pandemic and the economic fallout. Since the start of September, protesters have staged daily gatherings to push for reform of the monarchy and the resignation of Prayuth, who survived a non-confidence vote last week.

“These changes will boost dominance of large political parties in the next election and cement the course for the key ruling party to return as the government,” said visiting fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Punchada Sirivunnabood, who researches
Thai politics.

While the change would benefit all major parties, including the main opposition Pheu Thai, the key beneficiary is expected to be the ruling Palang Pracharath backed by the military.

That’s because the constitution also gives 250 senators who were appointed by the military a vote for prime minister, making it much more difficult for pro-democracy parties to form a government.

Supporters of the electoral proposals argue that by increasing the number of constituencies, each district gets redrawn to a smaller one that allows representatives to work more closely with ordinary citizens. The two-ballot proposal would let voters choose different candidates and parties, encouraging more public scrutiny of their policy platforms.