Court to rule on election law

Court to rule on election law

Party-list system faces legal challenge

The Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court

A ruling on Wednesday from the Constitutional Court on the party-list election system is expected to set an important course for Thai politics.

The court was petitioned to look into the validity of the bill on the election of MPs, which governs the new party-list system, by Dr Rawee Matchamadol, leader of the New Palang Dharma Party (NPDP).

The bill seeks to introduce a divisor of 100 to calculate the number of list MPs in the next election.

Small parties, including the NPDP, will have a harder time garnering enough votes to win a list seat under this method, however.

They would prefer to see 500 adopted to calculate the list-MP seats open for distribution to eligible parties. This would require fewer votes per list-MP seat.

At issue is whether Section 25 of the organic bill is constitutionally valid, or whether it is in conflict with Section 93 of the charter, which governs how list MPs are decided.

The court has also been asked to look into the validity of Section 26, which is linked to Section 131 in the organic bill, and which bars votes that have been dishonestly won from being tallied. Section 26 has been written in a way that could be construed as defying the constitution, its critics say.

The petitioners also claim the process by which the bill came to be adopted by parliament may not be legitimate.

They claim the draft law had not been vetted by parliament as it was adopted at the last minute -- after the previous version of the bill, which vouched for the use of 500 as a divisor, was technically dropped on account of its failure to be approved by parliament before the deadline.

Yesterday, Dr Rawee said the bill's failure to pass through parliament, driven by a frequent lack of quorum, was out of the ordinary, setting a poor precedent for lawmakers and possibly violating the constitution.

He said the outcome of today's court ruling should be pivotal. The court could also opt to agree with one issue outlined in the petition, and reject the others. "Whatever the result, it will mark an important turning point in politics," he said.

Critics have speculated that if any issue in the bill is ruled unconstitutional, it could complicate the process for the next general election.

The bill was a focal point of discussion at a forum in Bangkok yesterday titled "The Next Elections ... Who Are the Beneficiaries?" Speakers included former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva; Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former spokesman for the parliamentary committee on the redrafting of the MP election bill; and Jade Donavanik, a former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Mr Abhisit noted the design of the current constitution, which was promulgated in 2017, is such that it has left politics in a fragmented state through a bizarre method of calculating MPs dictated by the single-ballot elections. The calculation should be accurate and fair, he added.

He said that even if the court found the draft bill unconstitutional, the government should not sign an executive decree to break an impasse brought on by the bill not being able to be enforced.

Many legal experts, including Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, have reiterated that the least-desirable option would be for the government to issue an executive decree allowing the Election Commission (EC) to manage the next election.

Mr Wissanu said that would be inappropriate because the decree would then be issued without having been checked by the government.

Parliament agreed to push for the 100 divisor in the first reading of the draft bill, only to change its mind and embrace 500 in the second reading. An inconclusive third reading, which should have been the last, forced the version of the draft bill initiated by the EC to be used.

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