With almost two months left until the House of Representatives completes its term and a new election will be held by mid-2023, here are five things you need to keep an eye on before the next election in Thailand, writes Purawich Watanasukh in Bangkok.
1. The election date
The last general election took place on March 24, 2019, meaning that The House of Representatives will complete its four-year term on March 23, 2023. In September, the Election Commission tentatively determined the election date if the House of Representatives completes a four-year term without dissolution of parliament. Therefore, a new election is scheduled for May 7, 2023, as the 2017 constitution stipulates that when the House of Representatives completes a four-year term, new elections should be held within 45 days. This is the first possible scenario.
At one point, the dissolution of parliament was a possible scenario for determining the date. The 2017 constitution stipulates that a new election must be called within 45 to 60 days if parliament is dissolved. Recently, on 28 January 2023, two amended organic laws on political parties and the election of MPs were enacted, providing legality for Prime Minister Prayut to dissolve the House and call for an election if he chooses.
Current Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha.
2. The rule of the game
This upcoming new election will be the second general election under the 2017 constitution drafted after the 2014 coup. However, the 2021 Constitutional Amendment changed the electoral system to the Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM). Under the MMM system, there are two types of MPs: 400 constituency MPs and 100 party-list MPs. In addition, voters will receive two ballot papers without linkage between party and electorate votes. Therefore, the upcoming 2023 election will differ from the 2019 election, which employed the Mixed-Member Apportionment (MMA) system, in which the voter receives only one ballot but is used to calculate both party and electorate votes.
However, the 2017 constitution also stipulates that candidates must have been affiliated with a political party for at least 90 days, except in the event of the dissolution of the House of Representatives, the candidates can be affiliated with the party for at least 30 days, which has become an opportunity for party switching during this period.
3. The junta-appointed senators can still vote for the prime minister
The first Thai parliament under the 2017 constitution is a bicameral [a two-house legislative system], consisting of a 500-member House of Representatives and a 250-member Senate, with 250 senators appointed by the junta under the transitory provisions of the constitution and has the power to elect the prime minister together with the House of Representatives as the parliament for the first five years after the first parliament under this constitution. That means whoever is elected Prime Minister must receive at least 376 votes in parliament.
After the 2019 election, the Palang Pracharath Party, a political party backed by the military, has the second largest number of MPs in the House of Representatives. It nominated the junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha as the prime ministerial candidate, while the opposition pro-democracy parties nominated Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the Future Forward Party, a contender for the post of prime minister. With the support of these 250 junta-appointed senators, Prayut continued to be prime minister after the election.
In the upcoming 2023 election, the junta-appointed 250 senators will still be able to elect the Prime Minister with elected MPs one more time. However, this time will be the last under the five-year transitory provision of the 2017 constitution. Although the rule will still accommodate the junta leaders to remain in power after the next election, today’s situation is very different from the 2019 election, with Prayut’s popularity plummeting to record lows and conflict amongst the leaders of the junta.
hanathorn juangroongruangkit, founder of the Future Forward Party pictured in 2019. Image 123rf.com
4. Prayut’s fate
The 2017 constitution requires parties to nominate a maximum of three prime ministerial candidates before the election, which does not require party membership. It allows the Prime Minister not to be elected. The prime ministerial candidates must receive support from at least 5 percent of the total number of MPs to be voted in the parliament, meaning 25 MPs are required.
However, the 2017 constitution also stipulates that the prime minister cannot serve more than two consecutive terms (eight years). Prayut’s stay in power has led to constitutional problems because Prayut staged a coup and has been in power since 2014 as prime minister both before and after the promulgation of this constitution. This led to the question of whether this eight-year term limit also applies to Prayut. On September 30, 2022, the Constitutional Court ruled that Prayut’s term in office began on April 6, 2017, and will end in 2025. If Prayut continues to be prime minister after the next election, he can only be in office for another two years.
There were also reports of conflict among coup leaders: Prayut and Prawit Wongsuwan. Palang Pracharath Party, with Prawit Wongsuwan as the party leader, might not nominate Prayut as a prime ministerial candidate in the next election. In early January 2023, Prayut officially joined the United Thai Nation Party, which is seen as his ‘backup’ party.
5. The opposition on the rise
On the other hand, the opposition parties’ approval ratings soared against the downward trend of the junta leaders. The results of recent polls showed that two pro-democracy parties, Pheu Thai Party and the Move Forward Party, have a majority of support with roughly 70 percent of the vote split between them.
Paethongtarn Shinawatra from Pheu Thai Party, the daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, leads the popular vote to become the next prime minister. However, having more than 50 percent (250) of the House of Representatives seats may not be sufficient since the 250 junta-appointed senators can still vote for the prime minister. Instead, the pro-democracy parties need more than 75 percent of seats (376) to form a government.
Source: Asia Media Centre