Weapon of math destruction at work in Thai politics

The calculation of party-list MPs by Election Commission favours pro-junta parties as it slices down the opposition. Here’s how it works step-by-step. 

Caption: Mongkolkit Suksintharanon of the Thai Civilized Party announcing to join Prayut after gaining one seat from the junta's calculation method.

A weapon of math destruction is at work in Thailand. The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) confirmed the election of 149 party-list MPs on 8 May. The calculation favours the junta as it removes the anti-junta bloc’s majority in the House of Representatives.

The calculation is based on the Organic Law on Election of MPs, which, as the Constitutional Court confirmed on the morning of the same day, does not contradict the 2017 Constitution. Due to the ECT’s method of calculation, as many as 26 parties get party-list MP seats. “No reason, because it follows the law,” said Sawang Boonmee, the Deputy Secretary-General of the ECT. 

The Thai people have waited 45 days for the official election results. It turns out while it takes around 70,000 votes for each seat that the big parties get, it takes as few as 33,754 votes (0.09 percent of the total votes) for the smallest party (e.g. Thai Rak Tham Party) get one seat in the parliament, while the Pheu Thai party, because of its success in getting constituency MPs elected, gets zero party-list MPs.

Had the result been calculated by the fairer method, such as one which set a minimum threshold for getting a party-list MP (the method used in Germany which uses a similar voting method), party-list MPs would be limited to 16 parties, and the Future Forward Party (FFP) claims it should have earned more 7 seats. “We lost more than 7 parliamentary seats,” the FFP posted on Facebook. “These are representatives of people from ethnic groups, representatives of people interested in education reform, representatives from farmers’ groups, democratic activists, the new generation, and representatives from the people of the northeast. What a shame.”

The anti-junta bloc, consisting of Pheu Thai, Pheu Chart, the FFP, the Thai Liberal Party, the Prachachart Party, the Phalang Puangchon Thai Party, and the New Economics Party, which would, by other methods of calculation, have earned 255 seats out of 500 in the House of Representatives, now has only 245 seats.

The Pheu Thai party released a statement protesting the calculation method, while the FFP said it will file a case with the Constitutional Court whether it was against the constitution. However, some small parties with extremist ideas benefited from the ECT’s calculation method.

For example, Paibul Nititawan of the People Reform Party, which got one seat from its 45,374 votes nationwide, campaigned to invoke the teachings of the Buddha to solve people’s problems. Paibul was a Senator during the Yingluck administration and was an implacable foe of the so-called Thaksin regime.  Under the NCPO he was a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee and of the National Reform Council where he headed the Buddhism reform committee.

Mongkolkit Suksintharanon of the Thai Civilized Party, which got one seat from 60,354 votes, vows to bring back whipping to combat corruption. He is Secretary-General of his own National Anti-Corruption Network, which campaigns selectively and did not, for example, touch the scandal of Prawit’s watches.  Another party founder is notorious social media personality Natchapol Supattana or “Mark Pitbull”.

The junta seeks a House majority by gathering MPs from small parties who have benefitted from the ECT’s calculation method. And they returned the favor on 13 May when 11 small parties announced that they will together support Prayut Chan-o-cha to be the Prime Minister. Damrong Phidej, the leader of Thai Forest Conservation Party (2 MPs), which gained 1 more seat from the junta's calculation method, also announced it will join the government led by the junta. 

Before the election results, the junta was relying on the 250 senators, appointed by the junta, to pick Prayut Chan-o-cha to be the Prime Minister, but it would not be able to pass laws because the anti-junta bloc would still hold a majority in the House. With the help of the small parties and the calculation methods, it is now more likely than ever that Thailand will be ruled by the junta under the disguise of democratic election. However, pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party still needs support from Bhumjaitai Party (51 MPs), Democrat Party (52 MPs) as well as other undecided parties to secure the majority in the house. 

The consequence is obvious, but what’s obscure is how the calculation works. Weapon of math destruction, from the title of a book on big data algorithms authored by Cathy O’Neil, is an apt term for the calculation method designed by the junta to prolong its status quo. Since we owed the explanation of no-explanation to the international community, here is a step-by-step elaboration of how the calculation works according to the ECT’s announcement.

The weapon of math destruction

1. Total the votes from all parties nationwide. According to the ECT, the result is 35,441,920 votes.

2. Since the election in one constituency is still incomplete due to violations, find the number of total MPs and party-list MPs by: 

         (a) Divide the number of all constituency MPs with official results (349) by the number of all constituencies (350) = 349 ÷ 350 = 0.9971.

         (b) Find the total number of MPs to be reported by the ECT by multiplying the result of (b) by the total number of MPs in parliament (500) = 500 × 0.9971 = 498.5714.

         (c) Find the total number of party-list MPs to be reported by the ECT by subtracting the number of all constituency MPs with official results (349) from the result of (b) rounded down  = 498 – 349 = 149.

3. Allocate the 149 party-list MPs by the following steps:

         (d) Divide the total number of votes from (a) by the total number of MPs to be reported from (b) rounded down = (35,441,920 ÷ 498) = 71,168.5141.

         (e) Find the number of MPs each party ‘should get’ by dividing the total number of votes for each party by (d).

         (f) Find the preliminary number of party-list MPs for each party by subtracting the number of constituency MPs of each party from the number of MPs each party ‘should get’ from (e).  Since Pheu Thai Party won more constituency MPs than the number of MPs it ‘should get’, it receives no party-list MPs.

Table 1: How to calculate the preliminary number of party-list MPs

No.

Political Parties

Total Vote

MPs the party ‘should get’

Constituency MPs

Party-list MPs

1.

Phalang Pracharat Party

8,413,413

118.2182

97

21.2182

2.

Pheu Thai Party

7,881,006

110.7373

136

0.0000

3.

Future Forward Party

6,254,726

87.8861

30

57.8861

4.

Democrat Party

3,957,620

55.6091

33

22.6091

5.

Bhumjaithai Party

3,734,055

52.4678

39

13.4678

6.

Thai Liberal Party

822,240

11.5534

0

11.5535

7.

Chart Thai Pattana Party

783,607

11.0106

6

5.0106

8.

New Economics Party

485,574

6.8229

0

6.8229

9.

Prachachart Party

481,143

6.7606

6

0.7606

10.

Phuea Chart Party

419,121

5.8891

0

5.8891

11.

Action Coalition for Thailand

415,202

5.8341

1

4.8341

12.

Chart Pattana Party

244,770

3.4393

1

2.4393

13.

Thai Local Power Party

212,953

2.9922

0

2.9922

14.

Thai Forest Conservation Party

134,532

1.8903

0

1.8903

15.

Thai People Power Party

79,783

1.1210

0

1.1210

16.

Thai Nation Power Party

73,189

1.0284

0

1.0284

17.

People Progressive Party

68,973

0.9692

0

0.9692

18.

Thai Civilized Party

60,354

0.8480

0

0.8480

19.

Phalang Thai Rak Thai Party

60,298

0.8473

0

0.8473

20.

Thai Teacher Power Party

56,308

0.7912

0

0.7912

21.

Prachaniyom Party

56,215

0.7899

0

0.7899

22.

Prachatham Thai Party

47,787

0.6715

0

0.6715

23.

People Reform Party

45,374

0.6376

0

0.6376

24.

Thai Citizen Power Party

44,961

0.6318

0

0.6318

25.

New Democrat Party

39,260

0.5516

0

0.5516

26.

New Palangdharma Party

34,924

0.4907

0

0.4907

27.

Thairaktham Party

33,754

0.4743

0

0.4743

28.

Phuea Paendin Party

30,936

0.4347

0

0.4347

29.

New Alternative Party

29,219

0.4106

0

0.4106

30.

Paradonraphab Party

29,219

0.3861

0

0.3861

 

Other parties

 

Total

35,441,920

498

 

174.2629

         (g) If the preliminary number of party-list MPs under (f) totals more than the total number of party-list MPs under (c) (149), then divide the number of party-list MPs of each party by the total preliminary number of party-list MPs under (f) (174.2629) and multiply by the total number of party-list MPs under (c) (149). Distribute the party-list MPs according the results rounded down.

         (h) If after (g), the total number of party-list MPs is less than 149, give one more party-list MP to each party which already has a party-list MP and whose preliminary number of party-list MPs under (f) can be rounded up (contains a fraction of more than 0.5).

         (i) If after (h), the total number of party-list MPs is still less than 149, give one party-list MP to each party, excluding those which have received an extra seat under (h), in order of the size of the fraction of the preliminary number of party-list MPs under (f) until the total number of party-list MPs reaches 149.

Table 2: How to calculate the final number of party-list MPs

No.

Political Parties

Total Vote

MPs the party ‘should get’

Constituency MPs

Preliminary Party-list MPs

Subtracted by  preliminary no. (174.2629) and multiplied by 149

Additional MPs gained from rounding up

Final Party-list MPs

1.

Phalang Pracharat Party

8,413,413

118.2182

97

21.2182

18.1422

 

18

2.

Pheu Thai Party

7,881,006

110.7373

136

0.0000

0.0000

 

 

3.

Future Forward Party

6,254,726

87.8861

30

57.8861

49.4943

1

50

4.

Democrat Party

3,957,620

55.6091

33

22.6091

19.3315

 

19

5.

Bhumjaithai Party

3,734,055

52.4678

39

13.4678

11.5154

1

12

6.

Thai Liberal Party

822,240

11.5534

0

11.5535

9.8785

1

10

7.

Chart Thai Pattana Party

783,607

11.0106

6

5.0106

4.2842

 

4

8.

New Economics Party

485,574

6.8229

0

6.8229

5.8338

1

6

9.

Prachachart Party

481,143

6.7606

6

0.7606

0.6503

1

1

10.

Phuea Chart Party

419,121

5.8891

0

5.8891

5.0354

 

5

11.

Action Coalition for Thailand

415,202

5.8341

1

4.8341

4.1333

 

4

12.

Chart Pattana Party

244,770

3.4393

1

2.4393

2.0857

 

2

13.

Thai Local Power Party

212,953

2.9922

0

2.9922

2.5584

1

3

14.

Thai Forest Conservation Party

134,532

1.8903

0

1.8903

1.6163

1

2

15.

Thai People Power Party

79,783

1.1210

0

1.1210

0.9584

1

1

16.

Thai Nation Power Party

73,189

1.0284

0

1.0284

0.8793

1

1

17.

People Progressive Party

68,973

0.9692

0

0.9692

0.8287

1

1

18.

Thai Civilized Party

60,354

0.8480

0

0.8480

0.7251

1

1

19.

Phalang Thai Rak Thai Party

60,298

0.8473

0

0.8473

0.7245

1

1

20.

Thai Teacher Power Party

56,308

0.7912

0

0.7912

0.6765

1

1

21.

Prachaniyom Party

56,215

0.7899

0

0.7899

0.6754

1

1

22.

Prachatham Thai Party

47,787

0.6715

0

0.6715

0.5742

1

1

23.

People Reform Party

45,374

0.6376

0

0.6376

0.5452

1

1

24.

Thai Citizen Power Party

44,961

0.6318

0

0.6318

0.5402

1

1

25.

New Democrat Party

39,260

0.5516

0

0.5516

0.4716

1

1

26.

New Palangdharma Party

34,924

0.4907

0

0.4907

0.4196

1

1

27.

Thairaktham Party

33,754

0.4743

0

0.4743

0.4055

1

1

28.

Phuea Paendin Party

30,936

0.4347

0

0.4347

0.3717

1

1

29.

New Alternative Party

29,219

0.4106

0

0.4106

0.3511

1

1

30.

Paradonraphab Party

29,219

0.3861

0

0.3861

0.3301

1

1

 

Other parties

 

 

 

Total

35,441,920

498

 

174.2629

 

 

149