Wednesday’s court decision sets the stage for a General Election in 2023 which will be fought with a fairer, easier-to-understand and more transparent voting and counting process. The vote may turn out to be bad news for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who is relying on the support of the new Seri Ruam Thai Party although all may remain to be played for given his popularity among key sections of the public and reports of MPs switching to the new party from the ruling Palang Pracharat Party. Overall, however, it will diminish his chances of reelection next year as prime minister and make it a more challenging proposition.
The leader of the small New Palang Dharma Party, Mr Rawee Maschamadol, on Wednesday, accepted the 7 to 2 vote decision of Thailand’s Constitutional Court that found a new electoral law, passed by parliament in August and to be used in the next General Election, was constitutional. Mr Rawee said the new law would now give the opposition Pheu Thai Party the whip hand in the General Election in 2023. The news, which effectively could shape the result of the forthcoming poll, was greeted by a tight-lipped Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who told reporters that he did not know too much about the issue as he arrived back in Bangkok on Wednesday afternoon after a visit to Chiang Rai.
On Wednesday afternoon, in what could turn out to be a turning point for the course of politics in Thailand, the Constitutional Court ruled that an organic law, passed by parliament in August on the conduct of future elections, did not violate the 2017 constitution.
The court had been petitioned by the President of the parliament Chuan Leekpai following a representation by 105 MPs and senators questioning whether Sections 25 and 26 of the new law violated Articles 93 and 94 of the constitution.
New law will benefit bigger parties such as Pheu Thai Party. It aligns vote share on a national and local basis more closely and fairly to seats won
The new law provides for only 100 party-list seats in the next General Election in conjunction with a dual ballot vote and a divisor of 100 to be applied to the national vote tally to calculate the appropriate quota per seat awarded to parties in the running for party-list seats while the other 400 seats will be contested on a constituency basis by local candidates based on constituency votes cast in a separate ballot.
The new voting and election count process will mean more seats will be awarded on a pro-rata basis to votes cast rectifying a situation in 2019 where the Pheu Thai Party won zero party list seats because it had won so many constituency seats with the quota for seats divided by 500 meaning smaller parties with between 40 and 50 thousand votes won seats in parliament denying Pheu Thai.
Expedited decision by the court comes just in time for the General Election and avoids a potential crisis
The court, on Wednesday, ruled by 7 votes to 2 that the new law was constitutional, having indicated at a hearing on November 9th that the matter was one of legal interpretation.
On this basis, the court was able to expedite judgement and relation to the issue given the critical importance of this matter.
Wednesday’s decision by the court avoids the strong possibility that existed of a potential constitutional and political crisis.
Constitutional Court voting decision a watershed moment for Thai politics says top Pheu Thai MP and whip
Election laws to be decided by court on November 30th after Prayut plays his best political hand to win power
Thailand’s new electoral system, as part of a constitutional reform programme over the last two years, has seen the reintroduction of two ballots instead of one and an increase in constituency seats from 350 to 400 while reducing party list seats and changing the electoral process for awarding these seats.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha tight-lipped when briefed on the news at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok
On Wednesday, after news of the court’s decision came through, the Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan ocha, who is now believed to be counting on the support of the newly formed Seri Ruam Thai Party to nominate him and support him as prime minister in 2023, gave a particularly muted response to the news when interviewed at the military wing of Don Muang Airport while travelling from Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand.
‘I don’t know much about it,’ he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Rawee Maschamadol, the leader of the New Palang Dharma Party, one of the kingdom’s smaller parties was quick to affirm the significance of Wednesday’s decision and what it will mean for his party and the next General Election.
Significant challenge to the PM’s re-election chances
He, first of all, confirmed that his party accepted the judgement of the court as final and suggested that smaller parties will have tremendous difficulty in winning seats under the new system which will effectively mean that hundreds of thousands of votes will be required as opposed to tens of thousands in 2019.
At face value, the news may be bad for Prime Minister Prayut’s chances of retaining power through the newly formed Seri Ruam Thai Party although the prime minister has his own political following and there are reports of defections of MPs with strong power bases to the new party.
The change in the law means that more significant numbers will be required by small parties to elect party-list MPs and will make the General Election more competitive while favouring larger parties.
Under Thailand’s constitution, a party must have a minimum of 25 seats in parliament to nominate a candidate for prime minister.
Party leader accepted the court ruling saying it gave a political advantage to the Pheu Thai Party
In the meantime, Mr Rawee suggested that the decision will clearly benefit the Pheu Thai Party and now puts the main opposition force in the driving seat regarding next year’s General Election when it can expect to win between 160 to 200 seats which will put it in poll position to form the next government with opinion polls suggesting the party has a minimum of 34% support nationally.
Mr Rawee also predicted that the House of Representatives will not now be dissolved at least until some time in February 2023.
He predicted that there will be no further legislative efforts to amend or alter the electoral law now approved by the court which he expected to be presented to His Majesty the King for approval in due course.
‘I see that this matter is over and there will be no more objections and it will probably be a matter of preparing for the next election. Coming down should be between December 2022 and January 2023. I believe that during this time there will be no dissolution of the parliament. There will be no legislation. But there may be a dissolution of the parliament in February 2023, which is in line with Thai politics in the next election,’ he said.
Nightmarish scenario long warned against by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has been averted
The judgement of the court has now bypassed a potentially nightmarish scenario where the government may have had to issue an executive decree on the conduct of the next General Election which would have opened up the poll to further legal scrutiny after it takes place next year.
This was particularly alluded to a number of times over the last 12 months by Deputy Prime Minister and legal expert, Wissanu Krea-ngam as well as former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva who, in recent days, warned of the dangers of such a course.
Later, on Wednesday, the country’s ruling Palang Pracharat Party through spokesman Attakorn Sirilatthayakon MP welcomed and accepted the court’s decision.
He said the judgement offered certainty for the 2023 General Election and avoided problems while noting that many significant people had already expressed their concerns as to what would have happened if the law had been rejected.
He said that the Palang Pracharat Party had no problem with either formula for party list seat calculation methods and was glad that the situation had now been clarified.
About the Author
James Morris is a pename for an international writer based in Bangkok who works on various international news media. He is a sub editor with the Thai Examiner news website since it began in 2015. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.