With two long-awaited organic laws governing the election of MPs and political parties coming into effect, politicians are geared up for the next general election that is set to take place on May 7 -- if parliament runs its course.
All eyes are on the Election Commission (EC), which is tasked with redrawing the electoral boundaries and related poll regulations regarding the rise in the number of constituencies from 350 to 400. Meanwhile, the number of list MPs will shrink from 150 to 100, as a result of the reintroduction of two-poll ballots as well as demographic changes.
The 2019 election, the first poll under the military-sponsored constitution, saw the use of a one-ballot system, which is said to have favoured small parties.
In drawing up the poll boundaries, the EC will take into consideration demographic factors, updates of the population in each constituency, and some social and geographic factors. With the total population now at 66,090,475, the number of people represented per MP stands at 165,226.
After the EC completes the regulation on electoral boundaries, presumably sometime this month, provincial election offices will present at least three draft maps which will be put up for public hearings, seeking input from stakeholders, including voters and political parties.
It's imperative the EC responds positively to the feedback from these stakeholders.
At this stage, the poll agency has only mentioned broad guidelines for drawing up the constituencies, such as a plan to keep the electoral units of each district intact. This means there will be no cross-district constituencies, as happened in the previous poll. Besides, the agency has pledged to accommodate voters as much as possible, so travelling to polling units should not be such a problem.
So far, the guidelines appear welcome. Yet they are not enough.
The EC, whose members were appointed by the junta, cannot deny that its past performance was riddled with scandals, in particular, alleged gerrymandering that allowed the military-leaning Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to gain an advantage over its rivals.
In the 2019 poll, Pheu Thai and the now-dissolved Thai Raksa Chart parties cried foul over the dissolution and merger of several electoral units in their stronghold that ripped them of their traditional support base.
In Sukhothai, the stronghold of the PPRP's Sam Mitr faction, the EC was lambasted for ignoring local people's concerns as it continued to arrange several electoral units as if to create a shift in voting power that made it possible for the military-leaning parties to gain more ground.
As the EC is drawing up 400 constituencies for the coming election, speculation is rife that the ruling parties, including factions under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his brothers-in-arms, are set to collude so they can share victory at the election and maintain their grip on power. These kinds of political shenanigans would help B-list politicians make it to parliament.
The EC must dare to look into any irregular action and nip these poll-related problems in the bud, all the while showing zero tolerance for any dirty tricks.
In short, the agency should be aware of the public's expectations, and hold high its integrity and impartiality, in order to rectify past mistakes. The overall goal is to uphold the principle of free and fair elections -- a harbinger of more positive and constructive politics.