Prayad Hongthongkham

- Associate professor of Political Science (retired), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
- Specialist in Thai Politics
- Frequent commentator on Thai politics for radio and television programs
The General Election on February 6, 2005: A Political Transformation
 

Abridged and excerpted by Saowaros Saetang

Political Circumstances before the General Election

The general election on February 6, 2005, is regarded as a significant election in the history of Thai politics since democracy was first introduced into Thai society due to the following reasons and political circumstances prior to the election.

1. The House of Representatives and the Cabinet could fulfill a four-year term without dissolving the House or changing the cabinet. There were only occasional cabinet reshuffles.

2. The Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) when joined forces with the Seridham Party and the New Aspiration Party had a large number of party members that were enough to form a one-party government. In other words, the cabinet of the TRT seemed to be a one-party government.

3. The Chart Pattana Party was another party that took part in the Thaksin government at the very end of Thaksin’s administrative term during the last cabinet reshuffle because an agreement was made between the two parties’ leaders and the elite party members that the Chart Pattana Party would merge with the TRT in the coming general election. This was another attempt to gain ground in the election field.

4. The TRT persuaded former members of the House of Representatives connected to other political parties to be candidates under the TRT in the hope to attain the expected number of House seats.

5. Political strategies were launched to be at an advantage. For example, the polling day was promptly fixed. Rival political parties that were unprepared were caught unawares. Some of their party members were not qualified candidates.

Political Parties and the General Election

The qualifications of the House candidates are stated in the constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2540, section 107 (4) that “the candidate must be a member of any and only one political party not less than 90 days up to the date of applying for candidacy in the election”

In principle, candidates should be affiliated with a political party whose policies and ideology are consistent with their preference. In practice, however, it is not compatible with academic reasons and a democratic form of government.

Political parties play a crucial role in electing members of the House. Since the Component Act of the Constitution Concerning Political Parties facilitated the establishment of political parties, a large number of political parties were registered as lawful. The total number was not less than 50 parties. However, in the recent general election on February 6, there were only 20 political parties competing in the election. As a result, only the candidates from four political parties (the Thai Rak Thai Party, the Democrat Party, the Chart Thai Party and the Mahachon Party) were elected as Members of the House of Representatives.

Due to the ignorance of the importance of political parties to politics under the democratic system, political parties have become the obstacle and hindrance to the principles of liberty. Some people were unable to apply for candidacy because they were not party members of any political party, or they were party members of more than one political party, or their memberships of political parties were less than 90 days. All these obstacles have brought about the demand to amend the contents of the constitution regarding the qualifications of candidates.

Political Parties and Their Strategies to Win the General Election

The strategies that proved to be successful in the general election can be summarized as follows.

1. Defining the parliamentary candidates’ qualifications. It was obvious that each political party set almost indifferent qualifications. Most candidates were former Members of the House, or prominent business operators. All of them needed to have the highest possibility to win the election by all means necessary. Importantly, they should be free from the inspection by the Election Commission.

2. Defining party policies or the important agenda in order to win support. It appeared that political parties and their candidates altered the campaign for votes from false accusation into the attempt to make the public understand their policies and the ways to solve the national problems.

The political battle that political parties compete with each other by raising and emphasizing their policies and plans to deal with the national difficulties, is the legitimate and appropriate way and also in line with the principles of democracy because people have the right to decide and vote for the candidates who are affiliated with the political parties whose policies and plans are most appreciated. The government should have consciousness and commitment to bringing those policies that were articulated during their election campaigns into action by including them in the main policies of its administration.

3. Other strategies involved both appropriate and fraudulent methods. In this article, the illegitimate methods are excluded to prevent people from misunderstanding or confusing between right and wrong. The campaigns for victory in the general election that should be mentioned here are as follows:

Presenting the past achievements of parliamentary candidates and political parties.

Establishing a close relationship with people. Learning, collecting, summing up people’s problems and submitting them to the government or the authorities concerned.

Opening an opportunity to found units receiving local people’s complaints.

Building good relations among candidates, political parties and the public in every aspect.

Providing straightforward and constant information that is vital for channeling political development toward real democracy and good governance because people have knowledge and ability to use their political rights correctly.

The Results of the Poll and Politics

The general election on February 6 has created a new dimension in Thai politics at least in the following two respects.

1. As high as 72.7 per cent of the eligible electorate voted. This is an historically unprecedented figure, increasing from 69.94 per cent in the 2001 election.

2. The people’s voting behavior has changed. In the past, the impacts of an election result were not substantial because political parties had unclear policies and they operated in a multi-party system. Also, the people did not understand the importance and benefit of an election that is based on political parties’ policies and their achievements. Therefore, they did not take the party policies as a significant consideration for voting. On the other hand, the influence of personal connection or individuality prevailed over the public. As a result, there was no single political party that could gain enough votes to form a one-party government. Hence coalition government was established as a common practice. It is recognizable that coalition government is undesirable in parliamentary democracy because the government tends to lack political stability. It has no precise, definite and sustained policies of administering the country since it has to compromise with and accept other coalition parties’ policies. However, the result of the general election on February 6 absolutely changed the previous situation because the TRT won substantial votes in both constituency representation membership and party list membership.

3. The TRT won a landslide victory both on constituency basis (310 seats) and on party list basis (67 seats), 377 seats in total. The seats gained were sufficient for the TRT to form a one-party government. It is obvious that the political parties’ achievements and policies were the voters’ main considerations.

4. Another new political phenomenon is a reduction in the number of political parties. There were only four political parties whose candidates were elected. The other three political parties (the Democrat Party, the Chart Thai Party and the Mahachon Party) won a very small number of House seats (only 123 seats all together). This is not enough for them to check and balance the government as the Opposition. Therefore, some people are worried about a dictatorship and the misuse of power in the democratic system. In accordance with the principles of democracy, there should be a balance between the power of government and the people’s liberty and rights. Since the government gained an overwhelming popularity, the potential for beings dictatorship is quite high, especially, if the political leader is weak and immoral, and makes use of power based on his own benefit without thinking of the public interest and the people’s well-being.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned political transformation may stabilize the government and support it to work for the good of the entire nation. Otherwise, if the government and the House of Representatives abuse their authority, they will be able to totally destroy the country. It largely depends on the leaders who received power through the people’s trust, that is whether or not they will administer the country based on righteousness, morality and fidelity according to their oath of office taken in front of His Majesty the King. That is to say, it depends on whether or not the government would follow His Majesty the King’s royal advice given on the occasion of the state ceremony opening the House of Representatives on February 25, 2005.


Appendix

Table 1 : Party List Members and Their Votes

Party
Parth-List Score
Allocated Seats
Thai Rak Thai
18,993,073
 Votes (61.17%)
67
Democrat
7,210,742
 Votes (23.22%)
26
Chart Thai
2,061,559
 Votes (6.63%)
7
Mahachon
1,346,631
 Votes (4.33%)
-

Table 2 : Elected Members of the House of Representatives

Parth
Constituency
Party List
Total
Thai Rak Thai
310
67
377
Democrat
70
26
96
Chart Thai
18
7
25
Mahachon
2
-
2
Total
400
100
500

Table 3 : Geographical Distribution of Constituency Members & Party Affiliations

Party
Bangkok
Central
North
Northeast
Sourh
Total
Thai Rak Thai
32
80
71
126
1
310
Democrat
4
7
5
2
52
70
Chart Thai
1
10
-
6
1
18
Mahachon
-
-
-
2
-
2
Total
37
97
76
136
54
400
Keywords : election, politics, Thai election, political party, Thai Rak Thai, Democrat, Chart thai, Prayad, Party list, Prayad Hongthongkham, Saowaros Saetang
  
May 16, 05   




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