# Did Thailand’s parliament just vote to switch to MMP?

Via the Nation from Thailand, it seems that a joint sitting of parliament has voted to adopt mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) instead of a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. The headline reads, “Parliament votes for party-list MP calculation method to be divided by 500.”

The meeting, which comprised senators and members of the House of Representatives, chose whether to divide the party-list MP calculation by 500 or by 100. The first choice won with 354 votes in favour, 162 votes against, 37 abstentions and four no votes.

The meeting rejected the use of 100 to calculate party-list seats, which is the current method, by 392 votes to 160, with 23 abstentions and two no votes.

This is a somewhat awkward way of stating the choice between MMP or MMM, but it works. Let’s take a couple of examples to demonstrate. Suppose there are 36 million valid votes, and there is a party with 6 million votes, or one sixth. If the division is by 500, then a simple quota for a seat is 72,000 votes. This party has 83 full quotas (6M/72k=83, discarding the fraction, 1/3). If instead the division is by 100, then a simple quota is 360,000 votes. Our hypothetical party with six million votes now has 16 quotas.

The first scenario logically implies MMP. The party might have won, let’s say, 30 nominal seats (single-seat district contests in which the plurality wins the seat). It is entitled to 83 seats. So it gets 53 list seats, to bring its nominal total of 30 up to its full share of 83 quotas out of 500. It is thus proportionally represented.

The second scenario logically implies MMM. Again, let’s say it has 30 single-seat wins. Its 16 quotas mean 16 list seats, which it will add to its 30, for a total of 46 seats. This is a little short of ten percent (9.2%, to be precise). It is under-rerepsented.

Note that in the first scenario, it has one sixth of the total 500 seats. In the second it has one sixth of the 100 list seats. This is precisely how MMP vs. MMM works.

Now let’s take a somewhat larger party, with nine million votes. If the division is by 500, it has 125 full quotas. The hypothetical vote total has been chosen to roughly reflect the For Thais Party (PPT) in 2019, which actually won 7.8 million votes. That made it second largest party in votes, but it won the most nominal seats, 136. So let’s give it in our hypothetical that number as well.1 It is over-represented already! It is entitled to 125, based on full quotas with the denominator of 500. In other words, it has 11 overhangs. It will keep these, but it will get no list seats. Even though the system is MMP, the other parties that need compensation from the list seats will remain somewhat under-represented as a result.

If instead the division is by 100, this party has 25 full quotas. It thus wins a quarter of the 100 list seats, and adds these to its 136 nominal seats, for a total of 161. This is 32.2% of the total, under the hypothetical MMM system. It is over-represented, given it had 25% of the vote. It was also over-represented under MMP, as we saw in the outcome with division by 500. However, in that case, its seat percentage is 136/500=27.2%, which is much closer to its vote percentage than the MMM example.2

The Nation article concludes with this puzzling note:

However, Thammasat University public law specialist Prinya Thaewanarumitkul expressed concern on Facebook on Wednesday that the new formula would result in the number of list MPs exceeding the number allowed by the constitution.

No, it would not. Or, rather, it would not have to do so. The public law specialist seems to be assuming the overhangs would be compensated, by adding further list seats. But MMP does not necessarily do this, and if the list seats are restricted to 100, it will not generate more than 100 list seats for the simple reason that it can’t. The “extra” implied seats do not exist, and we simply reduce the total compensation potential when there are overhangs in the nominal tier. You keep 100 list seats, but the parties that have not already won at least their full quotas worth in the nominal tier get fewer of the list seats. This can be accomplished by recalculating the quota. In the scenario here, assuming those 11 overhangs for the party with nine million votes are the only overhangs the election produced, the quotas would be recalculated with a denominator of 500-11=489. Now parties get a list seats for each 73,619 votes they have earned (instead of 72,000). Our party with the six million votes is now entitled to 81 total (again, discarding fractions) rather than 83. And other parties–not considered in these illustrations–get similar reductions in what would have been their entitled final shares had there been no overhangs generated by parties that got over-represented due to success in the nominal tier.

In conclusion, it seems Thailand has chosen to shift to MMP. However, it will not be a highly proportional version of MMP, given that 20% of total seats in a compensation tier is on the small side. It is still MMP, and need not permit expansion of the list tier in order to so qualify.

I should also not that this was the second reading of the bill, not final passage.

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Notes

1. In the 2019 election, there were 350 nominal seats and 150 list, but rather than weight the seats to totals out of 400 nominal seats, I will just go with the raw numbers of seats PPT won in 2019.

2. In all these scenarios, for simplicity, I have ignored remainder seats, which result from the fractions that are ignored after seats are assigned via full quotas.

# Thailand electoral system change–again

The parliament of Thailand has again adopted electoral system changes. However, the WaPo is confused (and confusing) about what has been done. On the one hand, it says it is a “system of mixed-member proportional representation” (MMP).

On the other hand, it also says the new system is “a throwback to the system implemented under a 1997 constitution that sought to disadvantage smaller parties.”

Only one of those statements can be true.

The 1997 system was definitely mixed-member majoritarian (MMM), sometimes called a “parallel” system, and was indeed highly disadvantageous to small parties, by design. So much so, that its effective magnitude is probably best considered somewhat less than one. That is, despite a component of seats that are themselves allocated proportionally, its effect on the party system would be more like that of a multi-seat plurality system than like FPTP, let alone MMP.

It may be that the current system is indeed already MMP, based on what was enacted in 2016. So I am not saying that the statement about the new system being a “throwback” must be the true one, rather than the one about it being MMP.

The only clear statement in the WaPo article about a change from the status quo is that it will “give voters two separate ballots instead of the single one used in the 2019 election.” This is not a variable that divides MMP from MMM, but rather one that can take either value (one vote or two) within either type.

Thailand has changed its electoral system so many times that I can’t keep track. But it would not seem too much to ask of journalists reporting on electoral system changes to have a basic grasp of the topic so as to avoid making contradictory statements like the ones quoted above.

# Thailand’s new constitution and electoral system

Thailand will be holding a referendum on adopting a new constitution on August 7. A translation of this document is available here. The nation is currently ruled by a military junta, which took power from the elected government in May 2014. If the constitution is adopted, elections will be held in mid-2017 to choose a new civilian government (though that date has been pushed back a fair few times).

The document provides for a bicameral Thai parliament, as has been the norm for the nation’s numerous democratic constitutions. There is a Senate and a House of Representatives. One of the most substantial changes is that the Senate, which was half-elected and half-appointed by the King (I am unclear whether this was to take place on the advice of the government) under the 2007 constitution, and entirely elected under the 1997 one, will now be wholly appointed. This represents a return to pre-1997 practice.

While the Senate only has a delaying role on most legislation, passage at a joint sitting is required for certain ‘organic’ laws, like those on elections, the operation of the Constitutional Court, and the specific method for choosing Senators. This will become especially important in the first term of government, as the first Senate is to be appointed on the advice of the members of the junta.

The House of Representatives is the larger and more powerful of the two houses. As was hinted at by the drafters of the new document, it is to be elected using mixed-member proportional representation, though with closed lists and a remarkably small list tier (150 list/350 constituency).

When this proposal was first put about, I did some simulations of what the House would have looked like following the 2011 election had MMP been used. These estimates are based off a smaller list tier (the size of the one used under MMM in 2011). Any increase in the size of the House is due to overhang.

The key loser would be the populist Pheu Thai party, strongly opposed by the coup leaders and the winner would be the Democrat Party, which is considered to have the tacit support of the coup leaders. This would not necessarily be an unfair advantage (given it would give the Democrats a somewhat closer share of seats to their nationwide support), but it would be an advantage nonetheless.

MMP is specifically entrenched in the document. Amendment procedures have also changed; while past documents have allowed a majority of members of the House to make amendments, the new document will require 20% support from opposition parties to make amendments. Needing a super-majority isn’t unusual internationally, but not many constitutions contain quite so many specific electoral provisions as Thailand’s.

What impact increased proportionality will have on Thailand’s democracy is not entirely clear. On one hand, it could require governments to form broader coalitions, which might reduce confrontation in Thai politics and thus less resort to extra-constitutional means. On the other, it could lead to a fragmented House and weak, revolving-door civilian governments, like those that existed before 1997.

It is also worth noting that the elections scheduled for mid-2017, if they take place then, will be held under a law written and approved by the current military-appointed legislature.

Regardless of this constitution, Thailand has clearly got serious problems with military intervention. Previous Constitutions of a similar nature to this one ended in failure. It is unclear whether this one will be any better, though I see it as unlikely.

# Thailand political reforms (yes, again)

The current Thai political reform process, underway since the military coup of 2014, is churning out some significant changes. Already, decisions appear to have been made to move to mixed-member proportional (MMP), with the list-tier seats allocated via open party lists.

Thailand in the past has used mixed-member majoritarian (MMM or “parallel”). It has used multiple nontransferable votes (MNTV, also misleadingly known as “block vote”). It has used MMM and MNTV together. But MMP with open lists would be new, and not only to Thailand.*

The Bangkok Post, on 25 February, refers to various other matters under consideration, although it is vague on specifics.

To prevent the executive branch from being placed in a weakened position by squabbling coalition partners, it was decided that if the opposition wins a no-confidence vote, the House of Representatives would be automatically dissolved.

Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Khamnoon Sitthisamarn is quoted as saying that under the new electoral system, coalition governments are expected to be the norm, and so they are seeking to make it more costly to change governments between elections.

The CDC spokesman said this would cause the opposition to think carefully about filing a no-confidence motion and only do so if it was really necessary and the government had made serious mistakes.

There could be more measures aimed at making governments stable:

Mr Khamnoon said there will be other measures to prevent parties in the coalition threatening to leave purely in order to obtain benefits from the core parties leading the coalition. These measures would be decided later, he said.

The new constitution will bar independent candidates from running. Given MMP, one would expect few incentives for independents in any case. There will also be a provision that appears to undermine the very idea of open lists:

Another requirement is that in order to be declared a winner, an elected candidate must have received more votes than the total “no votes” cast by those who do not wish to vote for any candidate on the list.

This is not very clear. On the one hand, an open list system in which voters can vote for the party rather than a candidate is unremarkable. However, if it is genuinely an open list, votes solely for the list do not affect who is elected from that list, and in what order; this still depends only on candidates’ ranks in preference votes. If a candidate needs more preference votes than there were list-only votes, then this is not an open list, as presumably few will cross such a threshold, implying that a pre-election list order would have to be a default. That would be a “flexible” (semi-open) list, and probably not a very flexible one in practice.

Clearly there are details to be worked out.

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* I know of no such case at the national level. The German state of Bavaria is sometimes said to be MMP with a tier of open lists. However, I remain uncertain whether that characterization is precise. Years ago I proposed a hybrid MMP/OLPR system before knowing of the Bavarian system. It seems Bavaria uses a system similar to what I proposed, although perhaps different in key details.

# Inside the coup

“Less than 24 hours after the coup, Matichon Online had an account of events leading up to what is probably the most publicly staged coup in history.”

My favorite part:

Mr Chaikasem [Nitisiri of the caretaker government] said:” We won’t resign”.

Gen Prayuth then declared: “If that’s the case, the Election Commission need not talk about the polls and the Senate need not talk about Section 7.”

He then stood up and spoke in a loud voice: “I’m sorry. I have to seize the ruling power.”

It was 4.32pm.

At that point some of the attendees still thought he was joking.

They changed their minds when the general walked to the exit and turned back to tell them in a stern voice: “You all stay here. Don’t go anywhere.”

# Early elections called in Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, facing mass protests, has called early elections. It may not be coincidental that this move comes right after the opposition seemed to have given up on democracy: The Democrat Party, parliament’s second largest, announced Sunday it would resign en masse, and demonstrators have called for an unelected “People’s Council” to replace the elected institutions.

In the last elections, 3 July 2011, Shinawatra’s For Thais Party won 48.4% of the votes and 265 of the 500 seats. The Democrats won 35.2% and 159 seats. The electoral system is MMM. I don’t know much about Thai politics, but I assume Shinawatra isn’t calling an election she expects to lose. The protest movement seems overly confined to its base in Bangkok, whereas the ruling party has deep roots in much of the rest of the country.

Thailand’s politics remains a mess.

# Modifications to Thai electoral system

Thailand’s mixed-member majoritarian electoral system is being modified–again.

According to the Thai paper, The Nation, the number of party lists seats is being increased from 100 to 125, and the multi-seat districts in the nominal tier are being replaced by all single-seat districts.

This would make the system more similar once again to the one used from 2001 to 2006, except that I assume the list tier will remain districted (because the article says nothing to suggest that is being changed). In the 2001-06 system, the list tier was nationwide. In 2007, smaller districts for the list tier were introduced, and the nominal tier reverted, partially, to mutli-seat districts using multiple nontransferable votes (MNTV, or “block vote”).

Maybe they can keep this new new system for a few elections.

# Superintendence going overboard?

Some years ago I coauthored some work on the concept of ‘superintendence’ agencies, understood as non-elected institutions that provide “horizontal exchange.” The agencies provide checks on the executive and legislature that go well beyond the more typical constitutionality determinations by courts (rejecting laws or decrees, for example). Instead, superintendence agencies substitute for gaps in the “vertical” relationship between voters (the ultimate principal in a democracy) and their elected agents.

The basic idea behind the design of superintendence institutions seems to be an attempt to answer the question: but what happens when the voters themselves choose “bad” agents–those who violate election laws and other constitutional and legal provisions that are meant to ensure “good government.”

There has been quite a proliferation in recent decades of such agencies, including evermore powerful electoral commissions (whose authority extends well beyond mere administration of elections), independent prosecutors, human rights ombudsmen, counter-corruption commissions, and the like. Several superintendence institutions were created in recent constitutional overhauls in Colombia (where they are operative) and Venezuela (where they mostly are not), among other countries. However, perhaps nowhere has the concept of superintendence gone so far as in Thailand’s constitutional innovations of 1997.

This is all a long set-up for a question for the readers: Can anyone identify another case where an unelected institution–other than armed forces, of course–has dismissed a sitting chief executive? This just happened in Thailand:

The Constitution Court moved with unusual speed on Tuesday to dismiss Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and outlaw the ruling People Power party. […]

PPP leaders vowed to form another government under the Puea Thai party label. But it will be without Mr Somchai, who was banned from politics for five years. […]

Also banned by the court was the venerable Chart Thai party and the Matchimatipataya, both key members of the coalition government. […]

It is expected that the three banned parties will reunite under the Puea Thai (For Thais) party, and form a government from surviving members of parliament. […]

The court decision banned the parties and all their executives because of cheating in the Dec 23, 2007, election. But the decision has no immediate effect on other MPs or their ability to form a government.

I covered the election at the time: click the country name in the “Planted in” line to see them.

# Thai coalition

A coalition consisting of every party in the Thai parliament except for the Democrats has been announced. Details at the earlier election planting. (Please place any further comments or updates there.)

# Thai election: Big names fall by the wayside

Following up on some themes of the earlier Thai planting, I continue reading items from the English-language Thai press about the election outcome and the electoral system. One item from the Bangkok Post‘s general news section, 24 December, caught my eye with the headline, “Big names fall by the wayside.”*

I am going to quote most of the news item below. It shows the hazard parties faced due to the smaller list-tier magnitudes (compared to the former system, with its 100-seat nationwide list district) and the ban on dual nomination (i.e. a candidate had to run in either tier, but could not run in both).

Puea Pandin party leader Suvit Khunkitti and Matchimathipataya party leader Prachai Leophairatana are unlikely to make it to parliament. Mr Suvit was earlier named by deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra as a possible alternative prime minister if Samak Sundaravej, the People Power party leader, faced strong opposition.

Mr Suvit, who stood in constituency 3 of Khon Kaen province, was running in fourth place in unofficial poll results last night behind three PPP candidates.*2

The constituency has three seats up for grabs (MNTV: a voter may give up to three nominal (candidate) votes).

Puea Pandin party is expected to be an important component in the formation of a coalition government.

Mr Suvit and his party yesterday abruptly postponed a press conference after their poor polling results.

Mr Prachai is also disappointed with the outcome for his party.

He put his name on top of the party list for the proportional representation vote in election zone 6, covering Bangkok, Samut Prakan and Nonthaburi.

But the 10 seats available in the zone went to other parties: the Democrats, which won five seats, PPP, four seats, and Puea Pandin, one seat.*3

Several other big-name or veteran politicians also look in danger of failing to get in, based on unofficial results.

They include secretary-general of Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Pradit Phataraprasit, who is a list candidate for election zone 2; secretary-general of Matchimathipataya party, Anongwan Thepsuthin, who is a list candidate for election zone 1; and two Chart Thai deputy leaders, Chongchai Thiengtham and Nikorn Jamnong, who are list candidates for zones 7 and 8 respectively.

Mrs Anongwan, a former executive of the now-disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, said she believed voters were confused about voting procedures.*4

Former actress and MP Janista Liewchalermwong, better known ”Bam”, also failed to get a seat. She was Chart Thai’s best chance of getting a constituency seat in Bangkok. In constituency 5 where she ran, PPP candidates won all three seats.*5

That’s one for the party list “clipping file,” for sure!
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2. He has 93,161 votes; the third Peoples Power candidate has 98,486. Pua Paendin also ran another candidate, who is in fifth place with 83,515. Two other elected Peoples Power candidates each won more than 103,000 votes.

3. The party actually does not appear to have come very close to winning in that zone.

4. Not likely; rather, parties just did not have as many safe slots to go around as before.

5. She had less than half the votes of the last winner, also finishing well behind three Democrats. Nonetheless, an interesting effort by a minor party to exploit a celebrity personal vote. She won 1.6 times the votes of the second Chatthai (Chart Thai) candidate and almost 2.4 times the vote of the third candidate of the party.

# Thai election: Thaksin’s party is back, aided by MMM

In the first general elections since last year’s coup, Thai voters and the revised electoral system have given the party of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra a plurality of parliamentary seats. The People Power Party (PPP) is likely to be able to woo enough of the many smaller parties to form a majority, as it is only about 12 seats (out of 480) short of a majority. The Democrats are the biggest opposition party, with 165 seats, and have stated their willingness to form a coalition in the (unlikely) event that PPP fails.

The pre-coup electoral system, adopted in 1997, was mixed-member majoritarian (parallel) in its most straightforward design: a nominal tier of only single-seat districts (plurality rule) and a list tier that was nationwide (and closed list). The list tier comprised 20% of the total 500 seats. It had been engineered with the intent of consigning to history Thailand’s weakly organized parties and fragmented multiparty system with shortlived coalitions. Mission accomplished–too well. Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai ((TRT, which means Thais Love Thais, in what has to be one of the worst-named major political parties of all time. It was banned by the military, so Thaksin’s allies banded together in the new People Power Party. Thaksin himself is in exile, but has vowed to return.)) party emerged as dominant–initially just missing a manufactured majority ((248 seats on 40.6% of list votes in 2001.)) and then with an “earned” majority but overwhelmingly over-represented by the MMM system. ((377 seats on 56.4% of list votes in 2005.))

The military-initiated constitutional re-engineering project resulted in a revised electoral system that is still MMM, but in a way that is potentially less majoritarian in the nominal tier yet more so in the list tier. Now the list tier is only around 17% of the total (80 of 480) and regionalized rather than a single national district. These 80 list seats are elected in eight districts or “zones,” each comprising from 9 to 15 provinces. The “zone magnitude” is in all cases 10 seats. Lists remain closed. The much lower magnitudes mean that there are fewer “safe” seats on the lists and, obviously, fewer deputies elected far down their list in “invisible” ranks. In most list districts, the PPP and Democrats each won 3 to 5 seats. Only in two cases did one of the parties win more than five. ((In zone 8 (Bangkok), the Democrats won 8; in zone 3, the PPP won 7.)) This is quite a contrast from 2001, when 48 TRT candidates and 31 Democrats were elected from their respective party’s single national list.

The nominal tier now consists mostly of 2- and 3-seat districts, using what I would call MNTV–votes are both multiple and nontransferable. Prior to 1997, all seats were elected by MNTV, and given the personalization and factionalization of Thai parties, few districts were won by partisan sweeps. (In other words, most voters either did not use all their multiple votes, or did not cast all for candidates of the same party). There are also some single-seat districts.

In preliminary results posted at The Nation (a leading Thai newspaper), the seat-winning parties’ votes and seats in each tier are as follows.

First, the list votes percentage, seats, seat percentage, and advantage ratio (%/s/%v). These are listed in descending order of list votes won.

Dem, 39.63, 33, 41.3, 1.04
PPP, 39.60, 34, 42.5, 1.07
Pua Paendin, 5.6, 7, 8.8, 1.57
Chatthai, 4.4, 4, 5.0, 1.15
RJTCP ((Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party)), 2.7, 1, 1.3, 0.47
Pracharaj, 2.1, 1, 1.3, 0.59

Now for the nominal tier, listed in descending order of seats won.

PPP, 36.6, 198, 49.5, 1.35
Dem, 30.3, 132, 33.0, 1.09
Chattai, 9.2, 33, 8.3, 0.93
Pua Paendin, 9.2, 18, 4.5, 0.49
RJTCP, 4.7, 8, 2.0, 0.42
MT ((Matchima Thipataya Party)), 5.4, 7, 1.8, 0.33
Pracharaj, 2.3, 4, 1.0, 0.44

Seat summary

s-nom s-list total …Party
198+ 34 =232 …People Power Party
132+ 33 =165 …Democrat Party
018+ 07 =025 …Pua Paendin
033+ 04 =037 …Chatthai Party
007+ 00 =007 …Matchima Thipataya Party
008+ 01 =009 …Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana Party
004+ 01 =005 …Pracharaj Party

Note that if the military wanted an electoral system to favor the party it had recently ousted, it did it a pretty good job! The PPP has won 48.3% of the seats, despite being very narrowly only the second choice of Thai voters on the party list. The PPP and Democrats roughly tied with 39.6% and the PPP won only 36.6% of the nominal votes. That is an overall advantage ratio for the PPP of 1.22, based on list votes, and 1.32 if we want to use the nominal votes in our denominator of overall advantage.

The Democrats won one less seat in the list tier than the PPP did, despite having more list votes. The reason, of course, is the regionalization of the list tier. But, of course, it was the nominal tier that benefited the PPP.

The Pua Paendin also was significantly advantaged in the list tier, with 8.8% of seats despite only 5.6% of list votes. Nowhere did it place higher than third in votes; however, it won one seat in each of seven list districts.

One might conclude that if the military had wanted to boost the anti-Thaksin forces, it might have found a way to use list-only allocation. The Democrats obviously have a stronger party label than they have candidates or regional machine, with a list vote equal to that of the PPP and +9.3 compared to its nominal vote. What surprises me somewhat is that the PPP does not show evidence of strong candidates and nominal-vote delivering capacity, as it, too, has a list vote greater than its nominal vote (+3.0). Its advantage comes from the mechanical effect of the majoritarian nominal tier at least as much as it comes from from a strong nominal vote (which, at 36%, is hardly impressive, even if it was the plurality by a six percentage-point margin).

The smaller Chatthai is evidently a party dependent on its regional candidates, with its list vote -4.8 compared to its nominal vote, or less than half.

I certainly do not have the time to go through all the nominal-tier results, but it is clear that votes in this tier remain significantly personal rather than partisan. Many of the districts that I looked at (a small and not necessarily representative sample) were not clean sweeps by one party, notwithstanding an electoral system that would allow a party to win all the seats if it were the plurality party and its voters cast their full allotment of votes for the party’s candidates.

In Bangkok there were many sweeps, but only because the Democrats are quite dominant there. Bangkok has twelve 3-seat districts. In seven of these, the Democratic candidates won all three, in one the PPP did, and there were four districts with 2-1 splits (two favoring each party).

The electoral system promotes a personal vote, and these personal votes made the difference in specific races. However, one would need to do this analysis systematically to determine the degree to which the personal votes in MNTV affected the aggregate result. As I noted above, both parties had a total share of nominal votes that lagged behind their party votes, though this lag was more than three times as great for the Democrats as for People Power. The breakdown of nominal and list votes suggest that the Democrats would be in a strong position in coalition negotiations if the list vote predominated in seat allocation. However, because the nominal vote so predominates, the first post-coup government likely will be more similar to the pre-coup one than the military coup-makers presumably had hoped.
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# Thailand: Ex-PM may head list

The People Power Party is planning to offer the first place on its party-list MP candidate for former prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

The wording of the article implies a national list, but as noted in the previous planting here in the “Thailand” block (click the country name above to see it on the same page), there is no longer a national list in the new system. Instead, there will be several regional list districts.

# The Thai constitutional referendum

The constitutional revision process set up by the military government has reached its conclusion, as Thai voters approved the new constitution, which will replace the charter of 1997.

It was not exactly a ringing endorsement, however. Only 57.8% voted for the draft and the voter turnout was only 57.6%. Although I can’t say for sure, I believe the recent historical record of constitutions drafted by authoritarian governments claiming to be returning to democracy are passed overwhelmingly. (I can think of one outright defeat: Uruguay in 1980. Perhaps readers will know of others.)

RTE Ireland also offers a brief summary of some of the new provisions (with some details from the original edited out and commentary of mine added in footnotes):

MILITARY: […] The constitution also gives a blanket amnesty to the military officers who launched the September 2006 coup against Mr Thaksin, and their appointed officials.

PRIME MINISTER: A prime minister cannot serve for more than eight consecutive years. The previous charter had no limits. ((Along with Botswana and South Africa, Thailand will become one of the few parliamentary systems to impose term limits on the chief executive.))

Only 96, or one fifth, of MPs are required to launch a no-confidence motion against the prime minister. The 1997 ‘People’s Constitution’ required two fifths. […]

SENATE (UPPER HOUSE): The 150-seat senate is divided into two groups. Seventy-six senators will be elected directly and 74 appointed by an unelected panel of judges and the heads of independent state watchdogs.

Under the previous constitution, all 200 senators were elected directly. ((By SNTV with party affiliations prohibited.)) […]

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (LOWER HOUSE): The 1997 constitution’s principle of ‘one constituency, one MP’ makes way for a complicated population-weighted system under which more populous constituencies get more MPs.

The lower-house electoral system was actually MMM after 1997 (see previous entries here in the Thailand block for details). The new one restores a version of the old MNTV system (1 – 3 seats each), but from other sources, I understand that there will still be a list tier, as well: 400 seats in the nominal tier and 80 in the list tier (with no separate list vote and, I believe, a ban on dual candidacy). Unlike the 1997-2006 system, the list tier is itself regional, rather than a single national district.

The new constitution will not be quite a restoration of the pre-1997 system, but it contains many elements more in line with it than with the one overthrown by the military. It certainly is more favorable to the old pre-Thaksin regional elites than the 1997 charter was.

# Thai retrogression?

Thailand may be about to violate a near-iron law of electoral-system change: that no country, having abandoned a multi-seat nontrnasferable-vote (NTV) electoral system ever reverts to such a system. *

In its 1997 constitution, adopted in the wake of a serious political and financial crisis, Thailand replaced its MNTV system (M>1 seats in a district, each voter casting up to M votes, and top M vote-earners elected) with a mixed-member majoritarian (MMM) system. Under the MMM system, 400 MPs were elected in single-seat districts and the other 100 in parallel via closed-list, national-district PR.

Since shortly after last year’s military coup, there has been a constitutional re-drafting process underway. It appears the Thai drafters are about to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.

On 9 February, The Nation (a major Bangkok paper) noted:

The party-list MPs and single-MP constituency elections will be scrapped, the constitution drafting subcommittee chaired by Charan Pakdithanakul ruled yesterday.

In other words, not only will there be no MMM system and no national party-list PR tier, but there will also be a return to NTV. This could mean a reversion to the old system of MNTV, or it could even mean SNTV. Either way, it would be quite a regression from a system that was helping build parties out of the weak regional and personal vehicles that existed previously. It would bring Thailand back to a system that exacerbated some of the worst features of Thai politics.

The reasoning is ironic. From the same news article:

The main reason for scrapping the party-list MPs is because the system allows capitalists to rise to power through money politics.

Of course, in a capitalist system the capitalists are sure to have political power, but putting that aside, is money politics worse with party lists than with NTV? The old system, and its counterparts wherever they have been used (Japan, Colombia, Taiwan, etc.), requires candidates to raise large sums of money to differentiate themselves from other candidates, including candidates using the same party label. (The differentiation premium is stronger with SNTV, because of the indivisibility of each voter’s support and the need that a party has to ensure its votes are distributed efficiently across multiple candidates if it is to be able to elect more than one in a district; however, the problem exists with MNTV as well, for not all voters will use all their votes, or cast all of them for candidates of the same party. In its favor, SNTV makes the representation of minorities much easier than does MNTV.)

There is little doubt that in systems with weak parties, such as Thailand, parties can literally sell list slots for campaign cash and guarantee victory to the buyer (assuming the lists are closed, as they were in Thailand). I assume this is where the claim that party lists promoted money politics has come from. However, to assess the impact of an electoral system, we must not compare its effects against those of a perfect world in which all corruption has been eliminated, but rather to what other systems will do in the same context. That Thai leaders already have experienced what NTV does and yet are ready to revert to such a system shows either shocking lack of memory or shocking contempt for democratic development.

The MMM system was far from perfect. In fact, in one sense, it worked too well. It buttressed the Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Its disproportionality gave TRT a huge bonus in seats compared to its votes total,** while the closed lists (and to a lesser degree, the single- rather than multi-seat districts) greatly centralized intra-party authority. However, given the extreme fragmentation–across and within parties–under the pre-1997 system, this was what was needed.

If the MMM system overshot its goals, by strengthening TRT too much at the expense of its rivals (on the interparty dimension) and the TRT leadership at the expense of its rank and file (the intraparty dimension), then the possible solutions would be really simple:

1. Expand the size of the list tier as a share of the total number of seats.

2. Link the tiers, that is changing to (or towards) MMP rather than MMM.

3. Regionalize the party list rather than have a single national district for this tier.

4. Make the list open (or flexible) rather than closed.

Any one of these would have moved the system in the desired direction on at least one of the two dimensions, and these solutions are not mutually exclusive, meaning two or all of them could have been employed together. One need not go all the way back to the party-debilitating NTV system of the past. Alas, it looks Thailand will break an iron law.

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* I just noticed that in an earlier planting, I had spoken of a potential Mongolian breaking of this “law,” as well. Mongolian had gone from MNTV to FPTP. AS I discuss here, Thailand had gone farther from MTNV by adopting closed party lists as well as FPTP.

** In 2001, 49.6% of seats on 40.6% of votes; in 2005, 75% of the seats on 56.4% of the vote (thanks to its winning 310 of the 400 SSDs).