By KAS CHANWANPEN
AS THE registration of candidates for the long-awaited election kicked off yesterday, most parties appeared confident of winning seats in the House of Representatives despite the challenges brought by the new laws.
According to those laws, each voter will only get one ballot for three choices – constituency MP, party-list MP and potential prime minister candidate.
In addition to this one-for-three approach, the Constitution also prescribes a unique number for each candidate – unlike the previous practice of having candidates from the same party running under the same number. This meant candidates had to rely on their party’s popularity, so parties with a strong branding won the most seats regardless the quality of their candidates.
Charter writers justified the decision of having candidates run under unique numbers as a move to strengthen the House of Representatives. They said that when candidates run semi-independently, voters actually have to recognise them and their abilities in order to vote for them.
Electoral numbers are being given to candidates on a first-come-first-serve basis. Those arriving at the registration station at the same time will have their numbers drawn from a lot. Previously, party leaders drew lots and all party candidates used the same number.
Pheu Thai Party’s de facto leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan said at the Bangkok registration station yesterday that contesting under different numbers would only cause confusion among voters. Sudarat, who was at the station with her party members, said Pheu Thai has set up a public relations team to help voters understand the concept of different numbers.
However, her key message to voters was, “remember Pheu Thai’s logo and mark it in your ballot”. She said if her party wins, it will help lead the country toward a peaceful future.
She also sounded confident about the competition. “No matter what numbers candidates are given and how unfair the redrawing of constituencies is, I believe we will still win in Bangkok,” she said.
Separately, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said he hoped Democrat supporters will check each number closely to ensure they choose a Democrat candidate when they cast their ballots on March 24.
He too was confident that Bangkok remained a Democrat stronghold, adding that his party had always supported the people and that will help it win votes.
New player Uttama Savanayana, leader of the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party, meanwhile, said candidates from the same party running under different numbers should not pose a problem.
Former Election Commission (EC) member Sodsri Satayathum admitted yesterday that giving each candidate their own unique number in this competition had created controversy, with many believing that this was another measure to stop popular parties from winning a majority of votes.
“Remembering the number of parties is tough enough, now voters will have to memorise the number given to candidates from their favourite party,” she said. However, she admitted that voters should not have that much of a problem because the ballot will also display the party’s name and symbol alongside the candidate’s name.
She also warned the candidates to be aware of all the new rules and ensure they don’t break any laws, or they could face severe punishment.
For instance, all forms of entertainment are banned during the electoral campaign, and violators can face a 20-year ban from politics, she warned.
After the MP candidates got their numbers yesterday, Bangkok and other provinces saw campaign posters being erected in the streets.
New technology has also been widely adopted, with many posters displaying QR codes, which will not only provide voters additional information but can also be used to communicate with the contestants.