Constituency battles

So Democrats decided not to sponsor constituency size amendments but it’s not clear what is their stand on article 190 about foreign agreements yet.

Amending that article makes sense as there was a lot of discomfort at the Foreign ministry after Noppadon’s deal with Cambodia was ruled unconstitutional. On the other hand, it’s Democrats who control Foreign Ministry now and if they don’t think the article 190 makes it inconvenient, how’s that any of Banharn’s business? His party will never get the foreign ministry portfolio, what’s it to him?

Multi/singe constituency is trickier and it goes to the heart of what do they need parliamentarians for in the first place, what are their duties, who they represent and so on, then two systems need to be considered relative to each other and expected results.

Originally the country was carved into 400 constituencies, and I suspect no one remembers them all. People know 76 provinces and they address each MP as such and such from this or that province. People never relate to them as representatives of their minuscule geographical areas, so, from the national assembly point of view, those small constituencies practically don’t exist.

It was different on the local level, smaller constituencies meant the MPs knew everybody in their areas, or everybody important. One MP per constituency also meant “winner takes all”, and competition was fierce. Naturally candidates tried to be as close to the voters as possible, and while it is probably a good thing, it also means that people made their voting decisions on matters that have nothing to do with their jobs at the national assembly at all. When campaigns are localized, national agendas fade into the background. Not to mention that it’s easier to buy votes in smaller places, either by paying money or giving out rice bags or t-shirts or holding free food political rallies and so on.

2007 constitution brought in larger, multi seat constituencies. Candidates had a lot more ground to cover, they needed to appeal to broader spectrum of population and present broader issues, relevant to larger areas and larger groups. In a way it brought their electoral agendas closer to national issues, though the gap is still too big, I think. It’s also not easy to buy votes in large areas, you need more money and it’s more difficult to keep track of it all. Local poo yais and village had less persuasive power, too. You needed to show something more than just “everybody on that side of the river knows me”. Candidates had to have bigger profile, larger caliber.

Multi-seat also means that three candidates with highest number of votes are winners, and where some area was totally under one party control even if they had only 1% majority, now it has a possibility of being shared, giving better representation vis-a-vi voter proportions.

Personally I think it’s not a bad idea to have ALL candidates run on their national platform, not on local issues. Neither the government nor the parliament have any regional structures, they have committees and ministries based on industries or social issues, never on local ones. New politics proposal addresses this perfectly – if you want to be on the House Industrial Policies committee you should be elected by industrialists, not by some Ban Nok residents who have no idea what you are supposed to do there and want a new klong in their neighborhood instead, but that’s for another post.

Anyway, smaller parties have better chances under one-seat system, they don’t have resources to fight on a bigger scale, and being close to voters is their strong suit. They have build themselves on being close to their people and they have always provided for them, leaving their legislating duties to big boys in parliament.

Big boys, on their end, are busy with their big pictures, they want to leave local issues to local governments, Tamboon and Provincial Administrations, which are elected nowadays, and they should be the ones who to handle local issues, not MPs.

Apart from being a deadwood in parliament, big boys think that those small parties who win their cabinet quota don’t have qualified candidates to fill them. They appoint a nurse as a Commerce Minister and a retired teacher as a Deputy Health Minister – jobs way over their heads.

So now Democrats decided to stay with larger, multi-seat constituencies, and it must be noted that it was a decision by their executive board, not by the body of their MPs who had to fight it out on the ground and probably didn’t like large area campaigns very much. Anyway, they had a meeting and they delegated the decision to the executives, so that’s it.

Now it’s Phue Thai’s turn to make up their minds and they have exactly the same concerns as Democrats – they are being challenged by break away TRT factions that have excellent on the ground support while they have the legacy of running on attractive national policies, health care for all and so on that are not as attractive anymore as everybody offers the same national platform.

It would be interesting to see how it goes. They might support the amendment for now to get to the Democrats but regret it or even back off later.

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One Response

  1. You wrote “Personally I think it’s not a bad idea to have ALL candidates run on their national platform, not on local issues.” The 2007 constitution did go a small step into that direction as well by introducing the 8 regions, which each send 10 MPs on the party-list vote count.

    I personally most like the system used here in Germany, having 50% based on the MPs on a nation-wide party votes, and another 50% directly elected from the constituency, only then complicated due to the federal structure, correctional seats and so on. But this system has the best of both worlds – each constituency has one MP the voters have direct elected and who should be more responsive to the local issues to secure his reelection, as well as keeping it a nation-wide thing to avoid the multiple parties and factions and lack of national coherence which I see as one of the problems in Thai politics.

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