British, Thai democratic systems can't be compared

British, Thai democratic systems can't be compared

The National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) appointment of their allies, friends and family members to sit in the 250-member Senate has turned the NCPO members, particularly its leader and incumbent premier Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha into the subjects of accusations of nepotism.

In response, Gen Prayut recently said that the United Kingdom's government also appointed their Upper House in a similar way to how Thailand has under the NCPO-sponsored 2017 constitution, but I do not see the similarity outright.

Of course, it is easy to compare the constitutional monarchy of Thailand and the UK. The problem is that in practice, unlike in the UK, the development of this democratic system in Thailand is going backward instead of forward.

Unlike the junta's senator selection, the UK selects its members of the House of Lords based on their expertise and extensive knowledge in their respective fields. This is the role of the House of Lords Appointment Commission, an independent body set up in 2000.

For Gen Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon to say that there is nothing wrong with picking their army friends, political allies and family members to become senators for another five years is almost like saying they do not know what nepotism means. But comparing the senator selection process in Thailand to that of the UK is also absurd.

First of all, the constitution which was supposed to lay down the rules for how members of parliament, senators and the prime minister are elected is actually unwritten in the UK, while Thailand's constitution has been rewritten with every coup, or pretty much every five years since the revolution in 1932.

Furthermore, the current constitution of Thailand was deemed unconstitutional by internal and external critics alike. On the other hand, the supreme laws within the uncodified UK constitution have always been enacted or amended by mostly elected representatives since the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 gave the House of Commons more power by limiting the legislation-blocking powers of the House of Lords.

Most criticism of Thailand's 2017 constitution stems from the fact that it effectively lowers the power of elected MPs and provides more power to the selected Upper House. On the contrary, the latest reforms of the UK constitution in the late 1990s and early 2000s were done by an elected Labour government under Tony Blair, which actually provided more power to its citizens.

The reforms in the UK were mainly implemented by incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into its supreme law through the 1998 Human Rights Act, which increased positive rights for its citizens along with the introduction of the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act, which alters the structure of the House of Lords to separate its judicial and legislative functions.

The UK reforms basically mean that the legislative, judicial and executive functions of the Lord Chancellor are now shared between the Lord Chancellor (executive), Lord Chief Justice (judicial) and the newly created post of Lord Speaker (legislative), providing more checks and balances along the way.

Over the past five years in Thailand, members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) appointed by the NCPO wrote more than 400 laws since the coup, which always seemed to pass the military junta's selected cabinet with ease.

As for the March 24 general election which goes by the rules of the current constitution, the mixed-member proportional representation election method dictated by the constitution where the system involves a complex calculation of the party-list votes to be translated into the number of MPs for political parties has been heavily criticised.

This is due to the fact that the Election Commission (EC), whose bosses are handpicked by the NLA, previously delayed the announcement of the complete election results for more than a month when it could have been done in a day. The EC said that the constitution allows them to.

Now, based on the EC's latest calculation of MP seats which took them almost two months to decide on, 10 parties with less than the threshold of 71,000 votes can each have a seat in parliament. And unsurprisingly, all of them have pledged allegiance to the junta leader. This has helped tip the balance for the junta-supporting Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to form a coalition government.

Another condition in the election that is being dictated by the constitution is the fact that the 250 senators will also vote for who will become the next prime minister. Given that Gen Prayut is the PPRP's prime ministerial candidate, guess who most, if not all of them will vote for? And this is similar to the UK democratic process? I see no similarity.

Additionally, 101 of them have military and police backgrounds while many of them are part of the NCPO or have strong alliances with the regime. Gen Prawit, who chaired the senator selection committee, said the senators were chosen because they had either served in the NLA or the National Reform Steering Assembly, both of which were installed by the regime, so they have the "experience".

Moreover, six of the senators are Gen Prawit's classmates from Class 6 of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School and another is his younger brother, Adm Sitthawat Wongsuwon.

Yes, there are about 780 members of the UK's House of Lords and they are not voted in by the public. Some of them do inherit their Lord status from their family and 92 of these hereditary peers currently reside there. Other members are chosen by the prime minister because they are experts in their field.

But here is the major difference, most of the House of Lords' members in the UK are not active military personnel and none of them are members of a junta that has been ruling the country for the past five years. Why do we need 101 out of 250 senators to be military or police? Why are 71 of them from the army? Are we expecting to pass many laws on national security?

The answers that were given by Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit and the junta's supporters have so far made no sense. The opposition's claims that most of the senators were handpicked to be there in order to raise their hands for the current junta leader to be the next prime minister when the time comes to vote just sounds like noise to me.

Drawing a comparison between the UK and Thailand's democratic processes seems far-fetched at best, and also reveals the delusional political mentality of the current Thai military government.


Erich Parpart is a senior reporter of the Bangkok Post.

Erich Parpart

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus


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