Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha gives a statement in the parliament.

How will a ‘division-by-500’ party-list calculation shape the next election?

A joint parliament meeting has approved the calculation formula for party-list MPs. Observers see the result as an attempt to forestall landslides by big parties, especially the Pheu Thai Party, but there are questions  whether it will be effective.

The 6 July vote result on Section 23.

The vote on Section 23 of the draft Organic Act on the Election of the Members of the House of Representatives on 6 July is significant in setting the stage for the next general election. 

With 354 votes in favour, 162 against, 37 abstentions, and 4 no votes, Parliament approved the formula proposed by Ravee Maschamadol, the leader of the New Palang Dharma (NPD) micro-party, which gained one party-list seat in the 2019 election with only 35,099 votes nationwide, or 0.10% of the total votes. His formula for allocating the 100 party-list MP seats requires fewer votes per seat and sets a maximum quota for any one party.

Ravee’s proposal is to have the total number of party-list votes divided by 500, the total number of seats in the House of the Representatives, including both seats allocated by party-list and by constituency. This will give an average number of votes required for securing one MP. The total party-list votes for each party will then be divided by that average (with any remainder ignored) to find out how many MPs one party is ‘supposed’ to have in total. The 100 party-list seats will be allocated accordingly.

If any one party has won so many constituency seats that this number already exceeds the ‘supposed’ number of MPs, they will receive no party-list seat. If the number of the party-list MPs allocated by this method does not reach 100, the parties with the highest remainders will be allocated seats.

392 lawmakers voted against a simpler version of a proposal from the majority of the bill drafting committee. This version calculates the average number of votes needed to secure one party-list seat by using the 100 party-list seats as the denominator and having each party’s party-list votes be divided by that number to determine the quota of seats.

It must be noted that among 354 votes in support of Ravee's proposal, 150 were from the senates, an upper house that is all appointed during the junta regime.

How did we get here?

Ravee’s proposal has been a minority voice since Parliament approved the Constitutional amendment in September 2021, resulting in a change in the proportion of constituency and party-list seats. The total number of MPs remains 500, but there are now 400 constituency seats instead of 350, and consequently 100 party-list seats, down from 150. 

The amendment also re-instituted separate ballots for constituency and party-list. Voters will receive two ballot papers, one listing the candidates for MP in that constituency, and the second listing political parties which will be used in the calculation of party-list seats. Voters are free to choose an MP from one party and then a different party on the party-list ballot.

This proposal was offered by the Democrat Party. It was one among 7 versions that were variously proposed by the governing coalition, the opposition and civil society. Aiming to amend only Sections 83 and 91 regarding the election and number of MPs as explained above, it was seen as the least common denominator among all parties. 

The details specifying the qualifications for party-list candidates, the methods of casting votes, and the calculation for allocating party-list seats were to be set out in a subsidiary law, with an ad-hoc committee consisting of 49 members nominated by the Senate and House of Representatives to finalise the details.

The ‘division by 500’ formula has been promoted and lobbied by micro-parties who currently have only one party-list MP each. After the 2019 election, they benefited from a method of calculation devised by the Election Commission that controversially allowed them parliamentary despite not achieving the average number of votes to qualify for a party-list seat. 

These parties are New Palang Dharma (NPD), Polamuang Thai, Thai Teachers for People, Thai Rak Dharma, Prachatumthai, Thai Nation Power and Pheu Chart Thai.

Move Forward Party (MFP), one of the major opposition parties whose previous incarnation as the Future Forward Party obtained a large number of party-list seats in 2019, also expressed its support for a calculation using 100 as the denominator and allowing an additional number of MPs to be added to fit with the supposed number of MPs that one party should have, also known as the Mixed-Member Proportional System (MMP).

Like Ravee’s proposal, the MFP proposal was a minority opinion in the committee. Thus, during the vote on 6 July night, the majority of MFP MPs were among voted against the ‘division by 100’ formula which was the majority opinion of the committee as they stood for their own proposal.

The micro-parties’ pleas did not make much of headway outside parliament or inside the ad hoc committee until the Cabinet Meeting on 5 July 2022 when Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister, was widely reported in the media to have had a brief talk with leaders other parties in the ruling coalition, asking them one by one about their ideas about the ‘division by 500’ and ‘division by 100’ formulas and saying that he preferred the former.

The media reports also mention that Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwan was at that closed-door meeting. Gen Prawit at first agreed with ‘division by 100’ before toning down his views after hearing Prayut’s preference.

What to expect

The draft Organic Act will proceed to the third reading before being signed by the King and coming into force once it is published in the Royal Thai Government Gazette.

The Thai parliament

Ravee’s proposal can be viewed as one version of a Mixed Member Apportionment (MMA) system which sets a quota of MPs for each party according to their popularity among the electorate at large. This is the method that was used to allocate party-list MPs in the 2019 election.

The legal watchdog NGO, iLaw, speculated that Ravee’s formula will benefit small and medium-size parties, causing parliament to have many political parties and increasing the likelihood of a coalition government.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a Assistant Professor of law at Thammasat University (TU) posted that the government coalition’s gambit is aimed to frustrate PT’s vow to achieve a landslide victory while the major coalition partner, the Palang Pracharat Party, has been weakened after the resignation of its playmaker, Thammanat Prompao, who had been assigned to keep coalition MPs in check. 

The TU lecturer raised another issue; by reducing the party-list pool to 100 and using 500 as the denominator would cause the actual number of party-list MPs to exceed 100. He suggested that there should be some provision to proportionally round down the number of MPs to fit the available seats.

Pincer attack for a landslide?

Based on the 2019 election eligible turnout of 35,596,867, the average vote per party-list MP would be about 71,193 votes under the ‘division by 500’ formula, and 355,968 under the ‘division by 100’ formula. The lower average means more parties would make the cut, causing party-list seats to be allocated to many parties. 

Plus, the limitation of a party’s total MPs to the supposed quota was a direct blow to the Pheu Thai Party (PT), the core opposition party, which had won the most constituency seats, ending up with 136 MPs from the 250 constituencies they contested. Because of the quota limitation, PT was awarded no party-list MPs in 2019.

In March 2022, the PT made a significant move by announcing a new entity in parallel with the party called the ‘Pheu Thai Family’, led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, a daughter of Thaksin Shinawatra, the popular PM who was overthrown by the military in 2006 and who is now living abroad in self-imposed exile.

The PT and the Pheu Thai Family announced their grand plan to achieve a landslide victory in the next general election and have been campaigning in many provinces.

Paetongtarn Shinawatra gives a speech to Pheu Thai supporters during the party's campaign in Northeastern Thailand.

Responding to the parliamentary vote, PT leader Cholnan Srikaew said at a press briefing on 7 July that the ‘division by 500’ formula resembles what led to the inefficient government coalition of over 20 parties after the 2019 election, a situation that led to lobbying and allegations of bribery.

He alleged the 180-degree change of opinion on 6 July was the result of negotiations of a quid pro quo for a certain political party’s support during the upcoming no-confidence motion scheduled on 19-23 July.

Cholnan argued that the parliamentary vote on the calculation formula turned it into an MMA, which violated the amended Constitution which aimed to make the allocation of party-list MPs directly proportional to the party-list votes, and that they would take legal action on this issue at the Constitutional Court, Election Commission, Supreme Court, and National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The PT leader also hinted that the party may consider creating another sister party to focus solely on winning party-list votes, such as the ‘Pheu Thai Family Party’. This strategy would be a repeat of its attempt during the 2019 election when some PT members split off to create the Thai Raksa Chart Party (TRC). 

By having TRC run in 100 constituencies where PT was unlikely to win, and with PT restricting itself to running in the remaining 250 constituencies, the expectation was that PT would win constituency seats but be blocked by the quota from being awarded any party-list MPs (which in fact occurred). 

TRC would likely gain no constituency MPs, but all its votes would go to qualifying for party-list seats. Unfortunately, the strategy came to nothing when the Constitutional Court dissolved TRC before the election because of its nomination of Princess Ubolrat as a candidate for Prime Minister. PT ended up with no sister party, no candidates in 100 constituencies, and no party-list MPs.

Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a member of the ad-hoc committee finalising the draft Organic Act and former Election Commissioner, speculated on Facebook that MFP may benefit the most from the formula with an estimated 30 party-list seats out of 100.

On the other hand, PT may still get their hands on some party-list seats. The small parties would be the ones in trouble because the number of party-list seats has been reduced to 100. Therefore, it may take more than 70,000 votes to gain one party-list seat.

As for the government parties, Somchai stated that their problem lies in their popularity with voters.

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