Opinion: Two ballot system spells death for smaller parties, trouble for Move Forward

With the royal endorsement of the constitutional amendment on Sunday night, Thailand’s next election will now revert to a two-ballot system – replacing the junta-imposed one-ballot system that gave rise to dozens of small parties.

The promulgation of the amendment makes official a charter amendment favored by both the largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, and the ruling Palang Pracharath Party.

The new amendment will favor larger parties with established regional networks, regional votes over party-list votes, and reduce the number of seats available for smaller parties.

Uneasy Allies

Why would the two enemies, with seemingly little in common, unite over a contentious issue such as this constitutional amendment?

Remember that the current constitution and the electoral system that was put in place was designed to strip away the power of the Thaksin-aligned parties which had won every election since the 2001 general election.

The military government, the pre-cursor to the current Palang Pracharath Party, was adamant on making those changes because they were so eager to get rid of the ‘Thaksin system.’

By making it harder for large parties with lots of constituent seats to gain supermajorities, the junta-drafted constitution empowered smaller parties and new political faces to take the scene.

Remember even Pheu Thai tried to get in on the act before the 2019 election with the creation of the Thaksin-aligned Thai Raksa Chart Party (made infamous for its dissolution for running the princess as a prime ministerial candidate) to help win seats.

New challenges

What the junta, and to a large extent Pheu Thai, didn’t foresee was the rise of smaller parties including Future Forward and a new generation of Thais adamant on political change.

Remember that even though Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath are diametrically opposed on political issues, they both played the political game the same way.

They both spend tons of money in the countryside ‘recruiting’ influential local figures to be part of their extensive networks of patronage or to have these local influencers run as MPs. Both parties carry the game of Thai network politics that has been seen for the last century.

They are both very good at it.

The junta-drafted constitution was designed to take away the power from a lot of those networks because they were perceived to be masterminded by Thaksin Shinawatra’s extensive reach.

But the rise of Future Forward has the ruling party and the conservative Thai establishment recalculating its previous gamble.

While Pheu Thai is not the most palatable political dish for many conservatives, it is not the poison that Future/Move Forward appears to be.

By voting to revert to the two-ballot system, the conservatives and the Palang Pracharath are making an educated bet on the party’s newly established (and lavishly paid for) networks and also signaling to Thai political observers how much they are willing to risk to get rid of the Move Forward threat.

Pheu Thai on the other hand favored this amendment willingly and with little to lose. Their ground game is well established and will benefit them in the next election. More importantly, they get to eliminate a political-alike rival in Move Forward under the guise of constitutional change.

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