11 July 2024

The draft bill to amend the electoral law – which saw a last-minute change in the calculation method for party-list MPs – now seems to be doomed.

The joint Parliament meeting for the bill’s third reading collapsed last Wednesday (August 3) after failing to reach a quorum, as many senators and MPs from the two largest political parties stayed away.

The last meeting on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday (August 10).

Intentional collaboration?

It appears that Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath may be intentionally allowing the August 15 deadline to pass without a parliamentary endorsement in the third and final reading of the election bill.

If that is the case, the original draft – in which party-list votes are divided by 100 – will be deemed to have gained Parliament’s approval, as per Article 132 of the Constitution.

The charter states that parliamentary deliberation of an organic law bill shall be completed within 180 days, or it shall be deemed that Parliament approves the bill that was originally introduced.

The original bill passed its first reading on February 24. In the bill’s second reading on July 6, Parliament voted to approve a proposal to divide the total number of party-list votes by 500, rather than 100 as originally set.

The 500 figure is the total number of MPs in the House of Representatives – 400 from constituencies and 100 from party lists.

The last-minute switch during the bill’s second reading came after self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra boasted his proxy Pheu Thai party could win by a landslide at the next general election, expected early next year.

Thaksin’s claim seemed to scare leaders in the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha quickly said he preferred the “500 formula” to calculate how many votes are needed for a party to earn one of the 100 party-list seats. The 500 formula would benefit smaller parties at the expense of large parties like Pheu Thai.

Prayut is not guaranteed a berth as Palang Pracharath’s candidate for prime minister and may have to seek PM candidature with a small party at the next election.

Three scenarios

Under the Constitution, there are three scenarios in which the draft election bill’s revised version could fail.

The first would be delaying the final reading of the bill until the 180-day deadline for expiry, which falls on August 15. In this case, the original draft with the “100 formula” would be automatically reinstated.

The second would see a majority of both Houses vote against the revised version in the third reading. There are currently 726 parliamentarians – 477 MPs and 249 senators – so at least 364 votes would be needed to kill off the “500 formula”.

A third scenario involves allowing the draft bill to pass the final reading in anticipation of its rejection by the Election Commission (which submitted the original draft with the “100 formula”), as well as the Constitutional Court on grounds that the revised version is unconstitutional.

Pheu Thai’s ‘best bet’

Initially, many lawmakers – particularly those from the opposition camp – reportedly favored the third scenario. However, Pheu Thai later resolved that the first tactic –allowing the legal deadline to pass – was the most effective way of ensuring that the 100 formula would pass into law, according to opposition leader Cholanan Srikaew, who heads the party.

He explained that the second option was not feasible as Pheu Thai could not garner a majority vote while the third tactic would take too long and carried no guarantee that the “500 formula” bill would be rejected by the EC or the court.

Cholanan said Pheu Thai had adopted the delaying tactic until the 180-day deadline expires. “This was our intention from the beginning. We just didn’t say it publicly,” he added.

He argued that preventing a quorum or refusing to vote was a legitimate weapon for a parliamentary opposition fighting against a coalition camp that controls the majority.

Warning for big parties

Former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn last Thursday branded the delaying tactic of parliamentary no-shows as “dishonoring” the Thai Parliament.

He pointed out that large parties like Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharath would benefit from the 100 formula.

“Despite your big size, voters will punish you [at the next election] because your MPs are failing to perform their duty,” said Somchai, who represents the opposition Seri Ruam Thai Party in the House ad-hoc committee vetting the election law bill.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk