Early elections in Thailand, state of emergency in the Philippines

Under pressure over the sale of shares in a giant telecoms company, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has dissolved parliament. Early elections will take place on 2 April.

Meanwhile, the people of the Philippines will be under a state of emergency as they mark the twentieth anniversary of the ‘People Power’ revolution that restored democracy. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued the declaration because of an alleged coup plot. Arroyo, accused of irregularities in her reelection in 2004, survived an impeachment attempt last year and an army mutiny in 2003.

The Philippine state of emergency is obviously bad news for democracy, but the Thai dissolution is potentially good news. Thaksin won a masive majority in 2005, with his Thai Rak Thai party holding 75% of the seats (on around 56% of the vote). Elections would have been held again only in 2009. Parliamentary systems, such as Thailand, usually have mechanisms for early elections, but it is rare for them to be invoked so early in the term of a single-party government with such a large majority. But as the Bangkok Post discusses in good detail, the political crisis is deep, with some of the opposition undertaking actions outside the constitutional framework (in part because the large victory by TRT, exaggerated even further by the electoral system1, makes the parliamentary opposition so weak). Resorting to an early election is a good safety valve for seeking a resolution of the crisis within a constitutional framework.2

Whatever the outcome of the election, the dissolution of parliament in Thailand offers a possibility for electoral resolution of the political crisis that is lacking in the Philippines, where Arroyo’s term is constitutionally fixed (unless an impeachment process were to succeed in removing her, and even then there would not be an early election3).

1. It is a mixed-member majoritarian system: a tier of 250 400 single-seat districts with plurality rule and a nationwide tier of 250 100 PR seats, allocated in parallel (i.e. non-compensatory). It has done what it was designed to do in the two elections since it replaced the former MNTV system: reduce intra-party fragmentation that resulted from the lack of cohesive parties fighting over multiple seats in each district under the old system–the other side of MNTV, in contrast to the side shown recently in Palestine–and generate majorities out of what had been a fragmented multi-party system. One might say it has worked too well, especially in 2005.

2. I do not know enough about Thai politics to know whether TRT is likely to repeat its large victory, especially with such a short time for the opposition to organize a campaign, or whether either a change of government or at least a much smaller governing TRT majority might result.

3. One quirk of the Philippine presidential system is that the vice president is separately elected–on the same day as the president, but on a separate ballot. That is how Arroyo herself became president originally, having been elected to the vice presidency in 1998 and later succeeding President Estrada, who was impeached. Another quirk is that Philippine presidents cannot be reelected–unless they were not elected to their first term. Because she succeeded to the presidency when it had been vacated in 2001, she was elgible to run for a full term in 2004 at what would have been the end of her term as vice president, had Estrada served out his term.

0 thoughts on “Early elections in Thailand, state of emergency in the Philippines

  1. There’s also a movement in the Philippines for a change towards parliamentary government. Arroyo herself has been pushing for this change, though cynics like to point out that it conveniently shifts the focus away from a corrupt president and towards a broken system. I myself am not sure that a parliamentary system would solve the Philippines’ problems. As long as the representatives are elected by single member districts, and as long as the party system remains weak, the political oligarchy will continue to dominate politics. Any president or prime minister would have to rely on pork to forge coalitions. (BTW, it now appears that Arroyo also illegally “redirected” hundreds of millions’ worth of farmers’ funds towards her 2004 campaign. It also appears that billions of the recaptured Marcos loot is “missing.” Hmmm….)


  2. The recent political turmoil in the Philippines can be interpreted as a reflection of “unbalanced” development of political institutions and civil society. On the one hand, Philippine political institutions, such as parties, presidency, legislature, are underdeveloped in the sense that they command very low respect from Filipinos and their operation is neither efficient nor stable. On the other hand, the Philippines has natured a strong civil society (the intermediate sphere between family and the state, its embodiments include NGOs, church and business groups, etc) particularly after the “People Power Revolution” in 1986. It appears to me that civil society leaders consider that they are THE legitimate representatives of the people and that they can change the government through street mobilization, but not through ballots. As such, it is reasonable to suspect that one of the facilitating factors of the latest military coup attempt was because military mutinies anticipated that the civil society would support such unconstitutional means of government change as “legitimate.” The civil society groups in turn consider this unconstitutional procedure as legitimate because formal political institutions do not deserve respect. One of the implications of this interpretation is that foreign donors should aid more on the development of political institutions and less on civil society for the countries like the Philippines.


  3. Small correction to note #1. The Thai mixed-member system contains 400 SSDs and 100 national party list seats.


  4. Allen, what a remarkable coincidence. I was just catching up on some news from Thailand on the party-list issue when I decided to look up some of my previous plantings on the subject and I saw your comment.

    Thanks for the note. I will correct it. (I should have known better and I think later posts have it right.)


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