In The News

Thailand Election Primer

June 29, 2011

Thai elections can be challenging to follow for even the most ardent political watchers. On July 3, Thai voters will head to the polls for the 26th time since the country became a Constitutional Monarchy in 1932. This means that, over the past 79 years, Thais on average have cast their ballot every three years. Not only have Thais gone to the polls often, they have done so under 17 different constitutions, most recently in 2007. They’ve also experienced 18 actual or attempted military coups, the most recent of which was in 2006.

Thais vote in advance elections.

Voters check their names before entering the polling station at Ban Bang-kapi School during advance voting on June 26. Photo by Arpaporn Winijkulchai.

In addition, Thailand’s House of Representatives has 500 seats based on a mixed-member proportional representation system:  this means 375 representatives are directly elected based on constituencies, while 125 are elected from nation-wide party lists. On Sunday, voters will be asked to cast two ballots for Thailand’s House of Representatives: first to select their constituent representative; and second for the party lists. There are 40 registered parties, with a total of 3,735 candidates vying for 500 seats. 1,410 candidates are registered in the party list category, while 2,325 are competing for constituency votes.

That’s the mechanics; now let’s have a look at the political parties. Although there are 40 parties registered for Sunday’s election, the two main competing parties are the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party. The Pheu Thai Party is the third incarnation of a Thai political party originally founded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2008 following the dissolution of its predecessor, the People’s Power Party (PPP), by the Constitutional Court of Thailand for electoral fraud. The PPP was itself a replacement for Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai party, which the Constitutional Court dissolved in May 2007, also for violation of electoral laws.

On May 16, Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was nominated as the head of Pheu Thai’s national party list, and as such is the direct contender for prime minister against the current incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party. Founded in 1946, the Democrat Party is Thailand’s oldest active political party and head of the current six-party ruling coalition, with Prime Minister Abhisit as its leader. If neither party wins an outright majority on Sunday, the smaller parties will play an important role in forming the next government, just as they have in the current coalition government, which is made up of the Democrat Party, Bhumjaithai Party, Chart Thai Pattana Party, Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana Party, Social Action Party, and Matubhum Party.

The Bhumjaithai and Chart Thai Pattana Parties were founded in November 2008 and April 2008, respectively, as both of their predecessors, the Neutral Democratic Party and Chart Thai Party, were dissolved by the Constitutional Court for electoral violations, together with the PPP. The Bhumjaithai Party also picked up additional representatives from the Friends of Newin Group, a faction within the PPP that shifted loyalties to the newly-formed Bhumjaithai in the wake of the PPP’s disbandment. Likewise, the Matubhum Party was a faction within the Puea Pandin Party, which split to join the new coalition and is now running as its own independent party. While some parties are fracturing, others are consolidating, including the new Chart Pattana Puea Pandin, a partnership of Ruam Chart Pattana and the Puea Pandin Parties.

Needless to say, politics are never dull in Thailand and although voters will have their say on Sunday, political pundits will have plenty to watch as the next Thai election journey begins.

Pauline Tweedie is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Thailand. She can be reached at ptweedie@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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