Self-interest governs list-seat drama
The prospect that the opposition Pheu Thai Party may win a landslide election next year may have struck fear among bigwigs in the government.
Even the matter-of-fact former Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded in a speech early this month that the Pheu Thai Party will win the next election although it may have a problem getting its prime ministerial candidate approved by parliament as it needs the support of the appointed Senate which is known to be anti-Thaksin.
Fear is a powerful motive that can lead to surprise, big upsets or even irrational turns of events.
This explains the sudden U-turn by government parties in favour of changing the method of calculating party list seats from 500 to 100.
Before we dive into election law and the calculations of MP seats, we need to know about the latest election law.
The formula will determine the number of list-MP seats which will be up for grabs in the next poll and will be part of the organic law for the latest constitution.
The 100-rule is preferred by bigger, more established parties, such as Pheu Thai, Palang Pracharath (PPRP) and the Democrats. If used in the next election, these parties -- with their resources and networks -- have more chance of controlling the Lower House.
The goal of the 500-rule, meanwhile, is to create a more diverse political ecosystem. Under this formula, the leading candidate in a constituency won't be the only one who receives a House seat, as the votes cast will also be used to determine who the first and second runner-ups are. As such, small- and medium-sized parties are more likely to get a bigger share of the House seats.
It should be noted that the Democrat Party which initiated the 100 rule recently changed tack and voiced support for the 500 formula.
Not to mention the various micro parties each of which has only one party-list seat and opposes use of the 100 formula as the basis for calculations because this method will drive many of them out of parliament after the next election.
Last but not least, the opposition Move Forward Party (MFP) which is close to Pheu Thai, also voted for the 500 recipe, which put it on the opposite side of the fence from the Pheu Thai Party.
The question is: Why?
Well, the change will benefit MFP to the point where it could choose new course.
A partnership or alliance with Pheu Thai is a different matter as far as self-interest is concerned.
Rumours did the rounds before last Wednesday night when parliament resolved by a majority to accept the proposal of the minority faction in the House scrutiny committee vetting the organic election law to change the calculation method of party-list seats.
Having heard the rumour, Pheu Thai party's adviser Phumtham Wechayachai lamented that it was unthinkable.
The change in the method of calculation is not just unthinkable, but also has no legal basis whatsoever. It defies common sense and is below the belt.
According to the latest constitutional amendment, 100 represents the party-list seats in the House and 500 represents the total MPs in the House, including 400 constituency seats and 100 party-list seats. Therefore, the 100 rule is mathematically rational for the 100 party-list ratio.
Voters will be given two ballot sheets when they enter polling units -- one to vote for MPs and the other for parties. It is clearly separated. So how on earth should 500 be used in the calculation of party-list seats?
Why the change now, which is not final yet as it will have to go through another reading in parliament.
Also, it may have to be vetted by the Election Commission or the Constitutional Court after the Pheu Thai Party threatened to raise the issue with the court.
It goes without saying that Pheu Thai still has a painful memory of this method of calculation using 500 because it did not get a single party-list seat although it won more House seats than the other parties last time. A chunk of the seats also went to the Future Forward Party (predecessor of the Move Forward Party) of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.
Pheu Thai members are pondering a tactic they used previously to beat the 500 calculation method, which is set up a new party like Thai Raksa Chart which, unfortunately, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court before the March 29 election in 2019.
Meanwhile, smaller parties also benefited from the 500 recipe as each was allocated a party-list seat, thanks to the bizarre calculation of the proportional representation system.
One likely rationale for this change of calculation, which reportedly has the blessing of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha, is the censure debate is just around the corner, scheduled for July 19-22.
The prime minister and his 10 ministers targeted for the censure debate want to make sure they survive the debate.
Every vote is needed, which includes those from the micro parties known for their shifting loyalty, depending on how much "banana" they are to be fed.
In switching to the 500 rule, these parties managed to expand their alliances with small- and medium-size parties.
The possible alliance nourishes hope they will be able to return to parliament next time and the change will give them a chance, although not as much as in the last election because the party-list seats have been reduced from 150 to just 100.
But the change of calculation may not suffice. It must be oiled as well for their hands to be raised for the prime minister and his ministers.
There's nothing wrong with that in the world of politics where there is no room for morality or decency. It is just a quid pro quo -- because in the end they need to survive as well, financially at least if not politically.
Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.