Democrats adopt primary vote in leadership race
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Democrats adopt primary vote in leadership race

For the first time in its history, members will choose top-seat contender

Abhisit: Race will be 'highly participatory'
Abhisit: Race will be 'highly participatory'

A primary voting system intended to give the public more active engagement in politics will be adopted by the Democrat Party to decide its next leader, which could set the tone for other parties under a charter designed to prevent a power monopoly by a single owner.

The idea of giving members more say in parties' affairs has been picked up by the Democrats, which plans to apply primary voting in the selection of its party leader. It will be the first time in the Democrats' 72-year history that members get to choose contenders vying for the party's top seat.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the party leadership race will be highly participatory, which is healthy for the growth of democracy.

The Democrats have almost 100,000 registered members after the regime relaxed the political ban in April, allowing existing parties to update their membership status and political groups to form and register as parties.

Primary elections are among amendments made to the organic law by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). However, the complicated process is leaving parties increasingly nervous, especially smaller parties that are concerned they might not find enough members to vote and choose their MP candidates.

Mr Abhisit said that as soon as the National Council for Peace and Order eases the political activities ban further, probably in the middle of this month, the party will call a general meeting to revise its regulations to introduce primary voting in the party leader nomination process.

He said time has come to demonstrate to the people that political parties stick to their promise to live by democracy.

The primary voting change for the party leadership comes at a time when Mr Abhisit faces challenges from potential candidates who might unseat him.

Among them are his deputy, Jurin Laksanavisit; former MP Warong Dechgitvigrom, known as a key whistleblower on the rice-pledging scheme; and former party deputy leader Alongkorn Ponlaboot, who resigned from the party upon taking a job in the coup-sponsored reform body.

Some observers said the Democrat Party has failed to expand to new constituencies under Mr Abhisit's leadership, which may frustrate members. Mr Alongkorn said he was approached to run for the party leadership by some former MPs and he is considering it.

Mr Abhisit said there is no better time to encourage party members to be more politically engaged in party affairs. Based on the figures released by the Election Commission in June, the number of Democrat members shrank from 2.89 million to 97,755 when memberships were renewed and members had to pay a fee to stay with the party.

According to Mr Abhisit, mobile application technology will aid the process of leadership selection by primary votes. With a one-time PIN verification code, the members can vote once for a party leader candidate of their choice using their phones.

"It is a chance to take the party to another level," he said. Despite full-scale primary voting for MP candidates having been dropped by the regime, members should still be able to vote for their party leaders.

Mr Abhisit, who has been at the party's helm for 13 years, admitted some members are concerned the new system could create divisions and conflicts, and that the party would be taking on unnecessary risks.

"But I believe it is how we can truly show the members they own the party," he said.

According to Mr Abhisit, because primary voting is not required by the amended NLA charter, the most a party can do is to change its constitution to require the party's general meeting to be bound by the new nominating process.

At present, the Democrat leader is elected at the party's general meeting.

He said party leader candidates in the primary voting process must each be endorsed by 20 former MPs who won the previous elections or by 500 members in each region.

The Democrats' move has been welcomed by legal expert Jade Donavanik who said the initiative is taking participatory politics to new heights.

He said when people are involved in nominating party leader candidates, they are likely to develop more understanding about policy platforms and get increasingly engaged in politics.

"There will be more glaring scrutiny of party policies and performance. Together with primary voting under the charter, party members will feel a deeper sense of belonging and ownership, and the party will no longer be run by nepotism," said Mr Jade, who is also adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Worachai Hema, former Pheu Thai Party MP for Samut Prakan, also voiced agreement with the Democrats' new system, saying Pheu Thai is also considering a different voting mechanism.

Pheu Thai expects to give the right to vote in party executives to 500 founding members after the political ban is eased, he said.

The method is in line with the constitutional requirements that say a political party must have 500 founding members and at least 100 members in each region.

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