23 May 2024

Now that the bill that would benefit small political parties with a greater chance of winning party list MP seats in the next general elections has been killed, things will go back to square one.

Parliament President Chuan Leekpai tried his best to give legislators their last chance to vote on the bill by calling a special joint parliamentary session on Monday. But the obviously deliberate absence of large number of MPs and senators doomed his attempt, causing the bill to fail to meet its 180-day deadline.

For months, many if not most Thais have been baffled by this political back and forth that comes to be known as the “100 vs 500”.    Even political experts have problems explaining to people on the streets as to what it is all about.

Bluntly speaking, however, whether it’s the “100” formula or the “500” formula, it has little to do with advancing Thailand’s democracy or serving public interest in any way. It all boils down to a mere political tussle that would serve only political interest.

Now let’s get to the bottom of this bone of contention.

Let’s start with the “100” formula.  In the next general elections, let’s say all the competing political parties together gather a total of 38 million votes (projection based on the turnout of the last general elections in 2019). The votes would be divided by 100 (which is the number of party list MP seats up for grabs under the Constitution). The result is 380,000 which represents the minimum number of votes for a party to win an MP seat.

In this scenario, if Party A receives a total of 1.9 million votes, it would be entitled to have 5 MPs.  Of course, very few of the existing small political parties can expect to get that many votes.  Only major parties would stand to gain from this formula.

Now let’s take a look at the “500” formula.  The 38 million votes would be divided by 500 (which is the total number of party list and constituency MPs combined under the Constitution).  The result would be 76,000 which is the minimum number of votes required for each MP.  It’s no wonder then why small political parties have been fighting for this formula.

Originally, the “100” formula was drafted by the Election Commission and proposed to the Parliament by the Prayut Cabinet. But it was modified during the parliamentary process and became the “500” formula. The drastic change was made possible with the support of the ruling coalition parties, especially Palang Pracharath  – apparently out of fear that the original formula would benefit Pheu Thai, the main opposition party.

However, after some rethinking, those in the ruling coalition suddenly realized that the “500” formula bill might not give them an upper hand in the next general elections after all. There were also repeated warnings from legal experts that the formula might be unconstitutional.

Critics believe that major ruling and opposition parties colluded to have the bill killed as they would benefit most from the “100” formula.  The conspicuous absence of MPs belonging to these parties in the final joint parliamentary session on Monday certainly lends credence to the theory.

With the “500” formula bill now dead, the original “100” formula bill now be revived. It will be sent back to the Election Commission for further deliberation.  If the commission has no objection or proposes no amendments, it will be submitted for royal endorsement.

But that will not be the end of the story yet. Some small political parties have made it clear that they will challenge the constitutionality of the bill.   If the court finds no fault with the bill, the whole thing will be put to rest.  In the event that the court rules it to be problematic, then the Election Commission will need to draft a new bill.

And that would mean another field day for politicians and another political circus for the public to watch.