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As future political system takes shape, doubts remain about how fair it will be

Dec 02. 2017
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By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN
THE SUNDAY NATION

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THE LAST TWO organic bills, on the election of MPs and the composition of the Senate, have sailed through the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)’s first reading, taking the new political structure closer to completion after the two bills governing the Election Commission and the political party law were approved.

While more power is seen being put into people's hands to make their own selections of MPs, candidates through a primary voting system under the passed political party law are now given more of a say in how to engineer and shape a future government, which through a new election system introduced in the MPs election bill, would see power divided and shared among parties.

In the organic bill to regulate the House of Representatives, a new election method was introduced under the name Mixed-Membered Apportionment (MMA). To fill up the 500-member house, each voter would cast one ballot to determine both the constituency candidate as well as the party they like to represent their interests.

Since day one, the MMA system or the single-ballot system, has drawn much criticism from politicians. They and critics have constantly said that it would not truly reflect voters’ demands. Many contended that many voters will face a dilemma, having to choose between a local MP and a national government party.

However, the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) remains insistent that the single-ballot system is the way to go. Not only does it make every vote count, but also now both parties and voters have to think hard. Now if the constituency candidate is not attractive enough, the party will risk losing also the party vote.

But the tricky part is actually in the calculation of all the seats.

If the number of the MPs is to be apportioned by the votes gained from a single ballot, it is very unlikely that a party could be an outright winner. Rather, parties will have roughly similar numbers of MPs, resulting in a medium-sized party having more bargaining power in forming a coalition, if not also proposing a prime minister.

The concern about the selection of a prime minister has been heightened by the fact that the bill opens the way for the 250 senators to partly determine who the premier will be.

This is not to mention their authority to ensure the government to stick to the military-initiated national strategy and reform |plans.

Although public participation is highly emphasised in the Senate bill allowing cross election among professional guilds, the truth remains that during the first five years all 250 senators will be handpicked by the ruling junta.

And considering the fact that the average lifespan of this country’s Constitution is 4.25 years, it can be said that the 250 senators chosen by the military is all we’re going to get.

Some critics view all this as an attempt to block a particular party from taking a lead in the coalition. The assumption is reaffirmed also by the strict measures against corruption as well as poll fraud.

Because of the belief that past elections were plagued with fraud and vote-buying, the bills set out not only strong punishment for perpetrators but also strict qualifications for those who would like to enter politics.

Electoral fraud could land offenders up to 10 years in jail, cost up to Bt200,000 and get them banned from politics for up to 20 years.

The bills still have two more readings in the NLA’s chamber but drastic changes are unlikely.

After they are promulgated, a different politics can be expected. But the legacy of the 2014 coup regime focusing mostly around these legislations remains contentious.

It may be cleaner and better |politics for some people but for |others, it could be discriminatory and lack the spirit of democracy regardless of the holding of an |election.

 

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