'Ballot war' looms on charter revamp
analysis: Focus on changes to poll rules as next election draws closer
Even though key government figures have played down speculation about a House dissolution and the possibility of an early general election, parties, both old and new, are gearing up for a ballot battle, with all eyes on the joint parliamentary session on June 22-23 to debate charter change proposals.
One of the more closely-watched charter amendment bills is the version put forward by the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which can count on the 250-member Senate's support to pass the bill.
The key element in the PPRP-sponsored charter proposal deals with provisions associated with the voting system, seeking to revert from the current single ballot for constituency and party-list MPs to two separate ballots.
Critics are sceptical that the PPRP is serious about pushing for the change in the election system.
In their view, the single ballot makes it difficult for parties to grab a parliamentary majority and form a single-party government, which is deemed beneficial to the PPRP as it weakens the electoral power of big parties such as the Pheu Thai.
Critics also believe the PPRP's charter proposal could be a ruse and the party, along with the Senate, may eventually give the bill the axe in the second or final reading, like they did with the previous charter amendment bid.
PPRP deputy leader and list MP Paiboon Nititawan, who submitted the charter amendment motion, told the Bangkok Post that the charter amendment bill is a response to public calls for a charter revamp.
He said the bill, which avoids contentious issues such as Section 272 of the constitution that allows the Senate to join MPs in the selection of the premier, is likely to win the senators' support.
The section, however, has been widely criticised as a tool to keep Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in power and blamed by some as being the root cause of the country's political problems.
Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, said changes are imminent in the next elections.
He noted the Pheu Thai Party is losing its edge while the PPRP's clout is growing. The PPRP, he said, may lure MPs from other parties into its fold ahead of the next poll.
According to Mr Stithorn, a belief the PPRP stands to benefit from the single ballot system may not hold true and if the election system is not switched back to a two ballot system, the ruling party may end up winning no party-list seats like its rival Pheu Thai.
As for new outfits like the Thai Srang Thai Party of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and the Kla Party led by former Democrat Korn Chatikavanij, Mr Stithorn said these parties could form a coalition with the PPRP if they win a significant number of House seats.
The academic said that with the House of Representatives being half-way through its term it is not unusual for parties to begin preparations for the next poll, as they are required to hold primary votes, a new element introduced in the organic law on political parties.
Setting up local party branches, which is a prerequisite for holding primaries, takes time, so parties find it prudent to get the ball rolling and get a head start.
He said he has checked with the Office of Election Commission and learned the Democrat Party is the most prepared, with the screening of potential candidates currently ongoing.
Khunying Sudarat said her party is being met with scepticism with some seeing it as an ally of those in power while others consider it to be part of the Pheu Thai's taek bank pan strategy, referring to the concept of breaking a 1,000-baht note into smaller denominations.
Pheu Thai is said to have adopted the strategy to take advantage of election rules in the last election, which enable small- and medium-sized parties to gain more party-list MPs than big parties.
But it did not play out as planned after its ally, the Thai Raksa Chart Party, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court ahead of the polls.
However, she insisted that her party is an alternative in the next poll and it is ready for the electoral fight with a panel formed to screen potential candidates.
"Some say we're on the military side, while others say we're just branching out from Pheu Thai. We'll see in time. We face this kind of criticism because they're afraid we'll lure their supporters away," she said.
Sutin Klungsang, chief opposition whip and Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham, said if the renewed bid for charter amendment fails and the single ballot system remains in the next election, the public could see the resurgence of the taek bank pan strategy.
"Those who do not like each other at all may become allies and we may see a coalition government that looks quite different," he said.