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Dangerous pitfalls in the coming election

Oct 21. 2018
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By The Nation

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As the thin ice gets thinner, the company Pheu Thai keeps could bring it disaster

No one expects next year’s election to bring about political reconciliation, but by the same token, no one knows if conditions will improve or worsen. There has been a regular flow of worrying signs, one of the latest being a warning from the Election Commission: Political parties that split into “nominee parties” could face serious charges over electoral-law violations and could be dissolved.

Pheu Thai – the largest party before the 2014 coup – is already facing potential trouble for its connection with Thaksin Shinawatra, a fugitive and thus an “outsider” who legally is not supposed to have any influence over the party. The sole fact that his meetings with Pheu Thai figures have been widely reported raised the risk of the party being dissolved, but that danger is compounded by the emergence of new parties apparently related to Pheu Thai.

Analysts see the Pheu Tham and Pheu Chart parties as Pheu Thai “back-ups” – established as a safeguard should Pheu Thai be dissolved – and in place to boost its seat count under the new proportional representation system, in which even votes for losing candidates at the constituency level can generate MPs.

EC chief Jaroongwit Phumma warned last week that no party should be regarded as another’s “nominee”, forced to heed directives from people outside its own membership. In other words, if it can be established that a party is functioning for an outsider, legal trouble could ensue. 

Efforts to subvert electoral rules have caused serious problems for Thailand in the past. Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved in 2007 for bribery in an attempt to fulfil minimum-turnout rules following the Democrats’ 

boycott of a snap election. This came amid a juxtaposition of wrongdoing and overheated politicking in which many people shared the blame. The debate tracked political lines. The Democrats were criticised for their boycott, but the snap election was derided as an attempt to fix individual politicians’ problems and was therefore seen as unconstitutional.

This time, the major parties have to worry about the proportional 

system, in which each voter has one ballot and the choice of candidate doubles as a vote for the party the candidate represents. The sum of votes will dictate the proportion of seats allotted each party. If Party A is owed 100 seats but has already won 95 constituency seats, it gets just five more seats. Lesser parties that lose in every constituency can still have MPs in the House if their candidates garner a substantial number of votes despite losing.

This rationing method is 

somewhat democratic, ensuring that every vote counts, and it can prevent any party from a sweep of seats despite winning only 

narrowly in some constituencies. But critics have good reason to believe the authors of the new rule simply wanted to contain Pheu Thai because of its association with Thaksin.

Whether the approach is truly democratic or contains a hidden agenda will remain a moot argument, for now at least. One side of the coin is that Pheu Thai’s dissolution because of Thaksin or the Pheu Tham and Pheu Chart parties would make national reconciliation that much more remote. It’s tough to point the finger at anyone or any group for this looming risk, but the thin ice has become thinner all the same.  

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