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Phuket Opinion: The practice run

PHUKET: It’s a big day for Thai nationals throughout the country today (May 14) as they go to the polls to elect new Members of Parliament to represent them in the House of Representatives. However, the real effect of the election will be greatly diluted by those not vying for election.

Sunday 14 May 2023, 09:00AM

A young man casts his vote at polling station in Phuket during the advance voting held last Sunday (May 7). Photo: PR Phuket

A young man casts his vote at polling station in Phuket during the advance voting held last Sunday (May 7). Photo: PR Phuket

All the key players over not just the past four years but dating back to the 2014 coup still have skin in the game. As widely reported, Prayut Chan-o-cha is in prime position to retain his position as prime minster, despite leaving the Palang Pracharath Party that installed him in 2019 to join the United Thai Nation Party (Ruam Thai Sang Chart).

At 77 years old, former army chief Gen Prawit Wongsuwon is up for re-election as the leader of Palang Pracharath Party leader, while former Palang Pracharath Party member Anutin Charnvirakul, 56, is now leader and only prime ministerial candidate for Bhumjaithai Party.

All quiet on the news front is other former army chief General Anupong Paochinda, the Interior Minister, who as a Palang Pracharat member has vowed to exit politics if Prayut is not re-elected.

Other key parties have made recent strides in popularity and support, including the Move Forward Party led by Pita Limjaroenrat, 42, and the Pheu Thai Party, with key candidates Paetongtarn Shinawatra with Strettha Thavisin sharing the spotlight.

Yet the fundamental flaw in the election is the two-fold impact that Senators will have. Not only will they play a decisive role in selecting the next PM, a huge majority are military-aligned and any new government will still need their seal of approval in order to pass any laws.

While this has been noted publicly by keen observers of Thai politics abroad, very little light has been shed on the subject in the Thai media.

Prayut was selected to continue serving as prime minister after the 2019 election. Yet the Palang Pracharath Party needed to forge a coalition of 18 parties to keep him in power.

As Human Rights Watch pointed out last month, that election was held under the 2017 constitution, which was written by a commission appointed by the junta that seized power from a democratically elected government in a military coup in 2014.

“The 2017 constitution’s provisions entrench military power at the expense of civilian rule, including by reserving for the junta the appointment of members of Thailand’s Senate, Election Commission, Administrative Court, and Constitutional Court,” the global human rights organisation noted.

“The 500-seat lower house of Thailand’s parliament is elected, but the 250-member Senate was appointed by the junta and is largely loyal to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the leader of the 2014 coup and current prime minister, who is now running for another term.

“As a result, pro-military parties will only need 126 of the 500 seats in the parliament’s lower house to join 250 junta-appointed Senate seats to elect a candidate. In 2019, every single Thai senator supported Prayut even though the pro-military Phalang Pracharat Party, which nominated Prayut, had not secured the highest number of seats in the lower house,” HRW added in its release.

As the Bangkok Post confirmed yesterday, that has not changed. One group of 120 senators backs Prayut and another group of 80 supports Deputy Prime Minister Prawit. The remainder comprises 50 independent senators whose preferences had yet to be clarified.

With the Senate composition rule in effect, any party needs almost three times as many votes, namely 376 seats of the 500 democratically contested seats, to have a chance to get their candidate elected.

As such, the election is very likely to result in many of the same old players at the top, but it is also likely to see greater advances made by non-military parties, with some of their key members installed in important positions as the coalition alliances are forged.

The election will be a step forward for a more pluralist democracy, but only a small step. No matter who the public votes for today, it will be more like a practice run – but at least the same old familiar faces will have a better barometer of what the voting public will find acceptable.

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Fascinated | 14 May 2023 - 10:41:47

As long as the Senate is rigged the country cannot move forward unfortunately. On the good side more people will push back if things are seen to be blatantly rigged. the Courts are going to be busy finding bogus excuses to block people from taking office. Talk to 'normal' thais and they are fed up with the status  quo. 

Kurt | 14 May 2023 - 09:44:37

Fine 'Opinion'.  But as long the militairy keeps her grip/influence in The House and Senate I not have illusion  that Thai people have a outlook on 'thai democracy' coming years. The army grand dads keep themselve  in power at any costs, despite their talks to Thai voters. A lot of Thai sneer about this election. They don't give a baht for it.


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