Thailand moves towards political stability and economic development

Sunday, 2019-03-24 15:24:55
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Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha casts his ballot to vote in the general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 24, 2019. (Reuters)
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NDO – Today (March 24), nearly 50 million Thai voters are heading to over 90,000 polling stations across the country to elect the members of the House of Representatives, moving towards the establishment of the first civilian government since the military coup in May 2014. The results of the elections are unpredictable due to the complicated rules of the Thai election law, as well as the correlation between the tight force correlations between the parties.

According to the 2017 constitutional amendments, Thai voters will cast ballots to elect 500 members of the House of Representatives, including 350 constituency seats and 150 party-list seats. The 250-member Senate will be appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), led by incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. After that, the bicameral parliament, consisting of 750 members, will elect the prime minister. The election is held in the form of mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system in which voters cast only one vote to decide both the representative for their single-seat constituency and those on the party list candidates. According to the Election Commission of Thailand (EC), more than 100 political parties have registered, but only 77 parties are eligible for the election. There are 10,792 candidates contesting the individual constituencies and 2,810 party-list candidates in the race to the House of Representatives, while 68 candidates from 44 political parties are running for prime minister. Of the nearly 80 political parties joining the election, three parties have the strongest potential, including the Pheu Thai Party close to the Shinawatra family, the Democrat Party – the oldest party in Thailand, and the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which was formed last year to support PM Prayut Chan-ocha. The results of the pre-election referendum showed that the Pheu Thai Party won favour from more than 36% of the surveyed voters, followed by the PPRP with nearly 23% and the Democrat Party with around 15%. Of the 68 prime minister candidates, three prominent names include current PM Prayut Chan-ocha of the PPRP (26% of the voters in favour), Sudarat Keyuraphan of the Pheu Thai Party (24%), and Democrat Party leader and former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva (nearly 12%).

During its election campaign, the PPRP sought voters’ support with bold commitments, such as raising the minimum wage from 300 baht to more than 400 baht per day, 18,000 baht per month for skilled workers and 20,000 baht per month for workers with bachelor’s degrees. The party also promised to raise taxable personal income from 150,000 baht to 200,000 baht per annum, together with an increase of 2-3 million people entitled to social security benefits. With the almost absolute support of the 250-seat Senate, the PPRP needs to win a minimum of 126 seats in the House of Representatives to take a majority in the Thai National Assembly, thus securing the rights to establish the government. However, the PPRP has still left open the possibility of allying with other political parties to form a coalition government, in case they do not win more than half of the seats in parliament. Despite the lack of an experienced and reputable leader such as ex-PMs Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai Party is still a powerful force and always receives great support from the working class, especially in the northeastern stronghold. Pheu Thai have also committed to increasing the minimum wage to 400 baht per day and 18,000 baht per month for college graduates, rescheduling debts for farmers within two years, exempting the turnover tax for new businesses, granting a two-year tax exemption for e-commerce businesses, and solving the issue of public debt which is projected to increase to 50% of GDP by 2022. However, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, an important ally of the Pheu Thai Party, getting disbanded and its leadership team banned from political activities for 10 years due to the nomination of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya as its prime ministerial candidate, is a huge loss for the Pheu Thai Party right ahead of the election. With it hardly receiving the support of 250 senators, the Pheu Thai Party must win at least 376 seats in the House of Representatives in order to be able to form a government. This is an impossible task, because according to the Election Law in the Thai Constitution, if winning 200 seats or more in the House of Representatives, the Pheu Thai Party will have no more seats in party lists. Meanwhile, the Democrat Party, the oldest political party in Thailand, has vowed to boost anti-corruption efforts, narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, improve social security and increase autonomy for localities. Although it is no longer a strong force, the Democrat Party of former PM Abhisit Vejjajiva still receives great support from the elite class, the capital city of Bangkok and the rich southern region.

Experts state that it is very difficult for a party to win a majority of seats in the Thai bicameral legislature. Therefore, the coalition plan has already been taken into account. Prior to the election, the PPRP and the Democrat Party both “greenlighted” the possibility of allying together or with other parties to form a government. However, whether a party or a coalition wins, the tasks of ensuring socio-political stability, restoring the momentum of economic development and improving people’s lives must still remain a top priority of the new Thai government.