Abusing the election system

Abusing the election system

The party list no longer serves its intended function, with politicians exploiting it to reward cronies

Officials check documents during the registration of party-list candidates at City Hall in Din Daeng district, Bangkok, on April 4. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Officials check documents during the registration of party-list candidates at City Hall in Din Daeng district, Bangkok, on April 4. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The party-list system, which is designed to allow professionals from various fields to become MPs, has been exploited by parties to return favours to loyal supporters or financiers, academics say.

The May 14 general election will revert to the dual-ballot method in which one ballot is used to select a constituency MP and the other to select a party to lead the government.

The principle behind the party-list system is to allow capable individuals who lack political support from various fields to rely on parties' reputations to become MPs and put their professional experience to good use in parliament.

However, in previous elections, parties used the system for the sake of politics rather than following its original purpose.

For example, the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, the predecessor of the Pheu Thai Party, placed candidates tipped for cabinet posts near the bottom of its priority list because they were not meant to be MPs in the first place. As a result, spots higher on list were reserved for party financiers and key supporters who were guaranteed House seats.

Following this election, the House will seat 500 elected members -- 400 from constituencies and the rest from party lists.

Each party can submit a list of up to 100 candidates. Party-list candidacy registration began on Tuesday and ended on Friday.

The registration saw parties come up with different approaches to drawing up their lists of candidates.

The Bangkok Post spoke to academics, asking them to assess how each party, especially major ones, such as the Palang Pracharath (PPRP) Party, Pheu Thai Party, the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party and the Move Forward Party (MFP), organised their party-lists after party officials turned up at City Hall in Din Daeng district to register their list MPs on Friday.

Key figures from these parties were also asked about how they made their candidate lists.

Law's intention

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said candidate lists submitted by parties showed they were not in line with the original intention behind the law on the election of MPs and did not reflect the needs of voters.

Moreover, the law does not require a cabinet minister to be an MP, allowing parties to exploit the party-list system for political gains, he said.

"As an example, Pheu Thai has placed certain candidates in the so-called safe zone on the list, where they are likely to secure House seats, while those who are low on the list are tipped to become cabinet ministers," he said.

Wanwichit: A meansto curry favours

"This clearly shows that who gets which spot on the list is determined by the party's de-facto boss. They include those who are loyal, those who are trusted as well as the party's financiers," Mr Wanwichit, referring to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the alleged de-facto boss of Pheu Thai.

According to a Pheu Thai source, candidates Nos 1–13 on its party list, who have registered with the Election Commission, are senior members with key positions in the party responsible for overseeing the election campaign in various areas.

Nos 1–40 are considered in the "safe zone", with a high chance of obtaining a House seat, the source added.

Mr Wanwichit pointed out that some politicians, especially prime minister candidates, do not want the No.1 spot at the same time.

"This is intended as a damage-control measure to minimise any damage to their reputation or public image if they are not well-received by voters, as in the case of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the prime ministerial candidate of the UTN Party," he said.

"In some cases, prime minister candidates from some parties also avoid the No.1 spot on the list because they have learned a lesson from past party dissolutions [such as Pheu Thai's predecessors]," he added.

"Candidate lists show most parties do not attach importance to decent and capable people. They favour politicians who control a faction of MPs, politicians who formerly served as cabinet ministers or those loyal to the party boss," he noted.

But unlike major parties which do not want their MPs to serve as cabinet ministers at the same time, some small parties that may join a coalition government still need their MPs to serve as cabinet ministers too.

This is because if they are removed from the coalition, they will retain their MP status, Mr Wanwichit said.

He noted that the MFP has included candidates from various backgrounds on its list.

Nos 1–10 come from civic networks and labour movements while politicians skilled at debating in parliament are placed lower on the list to attract voters, he said.

As for PPRP, it is obvious that politicians with close ties with Deputy Prime Minister and party leader Prawit Wongsuwon are placed high on the list in what is seen as returning a favour, he said.

For the UTN, those with respectable credentials and those loyal to Gen Prayut have secured high spots on the list, he said.

'Safe zone' for loyalists

Olarn Thinbangtieo, political science lecturer at Burapha University, echoed Mr Wanwichit's view, saying that most major parties' candidate lists are designed as a "safe zone" for loyal supporters and financers, rather than complying with the law's true intent.

Mr Olarn also said that Phumtham Wechayachai, a Pheu Thai deputy leader, has secured the No 100 spot, the lowest on the list, which shows he will become a cabinet minister rather than an MP if the party becomes the new government.

Conversely, the three politicians who recently moved from the PPRP to Pheu Thai -- Suriya Jungrungreangkit, Suchart Tancharoen and Somsak Thepsutin -- are high on Pheu Thai's list.

"This means they not only want to be MPs to control their factions in parliament, but also want to serve as cabinet ministers," Mr Olarn said. "But their high spots on the list may upset some other party members."

He said people from various professional backgrounds are assigned to high spots on the MFP's list, in line with the principle behind the party list system.

Jade: Not enough experts on lists

Jade Donavanik, dean of the law faculty at Dhurakij Pundit University, said that in principle, MPs in the party list system must be different from constituency MPs.

"But in Thailand, those in the party list system and constituency system are all politicians. It is impractical to think of bringing in academics or technocrats [into the party list system]," he said.

"Therefore, the party list system adopted in Thailand is just a space for politicians who are not good at meeting and talking to the people, though they are good at working at the national policy-making level, or lobbying or coordinating," he said.

"That's why some may be disappointed that the candidate lists of some parties are not in line with the intention of the drafters of the law," he added.

Mr Jade noted that some parties expect their Nos 1–10 to have the highest chance of winning House seats, followed by Nos 11–20 with the second highest chance and Nos 21–30 with chances to win still in doubt.

He further said that in the coming election, party-list candidates, particularly well-known figures, must also help campaign for constituency candidates.

"Those list candidates need to remind voters that they remain with the party," he said.

"Some voters are only interested in voting for constituency candidates to make sure the party they support can secure 25 House seats to nominate a prime minister candidate for a vote in parliament," he said.

Lists vary

Sutin: Party list'inclusive'

Sutin Klungsang, a deputy Pheu Thai leader, said the party's list includes people from all generations, including those with experience and long ties with the party.

"Nos 1–10 include Mr Suriya and Mr Suchart. They once worked with the party," he said.

Asked about key figures on the lower end of the list, such as Mr Phumtham, Mr Sutin said this is a normal party practice.

"Everyone high or low on the list is important. Big names can stay at the bottom of the list, but this doesn't mean they are not important," he said.

Citing information from opinion surveys, he said the party expects to win at least 50 party list seats in the next poll.

Deputy PPRP leader Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said that the party's list candidates are arranged in order of importance in the party.

Gen Prawit, the party leader, tops the list, followed by the secretary-general, executive board members and others who have key roles in the party and support the party's work.

"Unlike other parties, we don't have representatives from business groups," said Mr Chaiwut, who serves as Digital Economy and Society Minister.

"We also set a target of securing 20 seats in the party list system. If the party becomes the new government, those who get cabinet posts must step down as MPs.

"This is an agreement reached within the party," Mr Chaiwut said.

Witthaya Kaewparadai, a deputy UTN leader, said that the power to list candidates rests with the party's executive board and Gen Prayut.

If the party can form a government, those high on the list will become cabinet ministers but they must resign as party-list MPs so they can concentrate fully on their ministerial jobs, according to Mr Witthaya, adding that the party expects to secure 20 seats in the party list system.

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