Friends, bear with me today — I promise that the more interesting part of the blog comes after the obligatory civics lesson.
Since 1932, Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government. In this system, the King is the Head of State while the Prime Minister is Head of Government. The Prime Minister heads the executive branch of government and he (or she) is typically the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives. If there is no majority, the Prime Minister is typically the head of the largest party in the governing coalition. The Prime Minister appoints the Cabinet that oversees 20 ministries with 35 ministers and deputy ministers. These Cabinet members serve at the discretion of the Prime Minister
The current Prime Minister is Abhisit Vejjajiva from the Democrat Party. He was appointed Prime Minister in December 2008 after Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from the People’s Power Party was removed by the Constitutional Court of Thailand for election fraud. Abhisit heads a coalition government made up of the Democrats, the Proud Thais Party, the Thai Nation Development Party, the Thai United National Development Party, the Social Action Party, and the Matubhum Party. The major opposition parties are the Pheu Thai (For Thais) Party, the For the Motherland Party, and the Royalist People’s Party.
The Parliament, or National Assembly, is a bicameral legislature with a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate has 150 members, 77 are elected — one from Bangkok and one from each of the 76 provinces — while the rest are appointed by a government commission. The Senate’s power is in the appointment of members of the Judiciary and of leaders of the various government agencies. The senators are non-partisan — they cannot have been involved with any partisan organization for the previous five years before their election or selection — and they serve for a single, six-year term. The last Senate election was in 2008.
The House of Representatives is the legislative power and it is highly partisan. House members serve a four-year term or until the House is dissolved. The last House election was on December 23, 2007, so an election needed to be called by the end of this year. On May 9th, King Bhumibol issued a Royal Decree that dissolved the House of Representatives effective on May 10. This decree lead to the upcoming election that will occur on July 3. In this election, 500 representatives will be chosen, 25% from party-lists and 75% directly from local districts. Citizens thus have two votes — one for the person to represent their district and one for the party that they favor.
In the direct constituent elections, the candidate who receives a plurality of the votes wins the election, e.g., a typical “First Past The Post” system. The 125 party-list winners are chosen based upon the proportion of votes that each party receives. In the 2008 election, the party-list results were calculated regionally with each of eight geographic regions (with approximately 8 million people in each) allocating 10 seats based on proportionality within the region. However, in the upcoming election, the regional element has been eliminated and all 125 party-list representatives will be chosen based on each party’s share of national votes.
There are 40 parties on the July 3rd ballot, but only 7 have party-list ballots with a full slate of 125 candidates. However, since party-list candidates are elected proportionally, the only way that all 125 from one party could be elected is if that party received 100% of the vote. I think if you are in position 70 or lower on the list of even the top vote-getting party, it is like being chosen Miss Congeniality — you really have no chance of getting the job.
There is a national ballot for the 125 seats that are chosen from the party lists with the ballot position for the political parties determined by lottery back in May. With a crowded field, it is good to be near the top of the ballot. As can be seen below, parties are identified by both their written name and their logo, most likely to make it easier for illiterate and less-educated people to find the party that they support.
There is a bit of a controversy about the ballot regarding the logo for the Pheu Thai Party. Pheu Thai is the leading challenger to the ruling Democrat Party and it is in position #1 on the ballot above. However, for some reason its logo was omitted from the ballot and the party name was used instead. The party is seeking a court order to force the election commission to change the ballot design.
The major Thai political parties are the Democrats (the current ruling party) at position #10; Pheu Thai (the party currently leading in the polls) at position #1; the National Development Party at position #2, the Social Action Party at position #14, the Bhum Jai Thai Party at position #16; the Thai National Development Party at position #21; and the New Aspirations Party at position #34. The Rak Thai is a small but interesting party at position #5.
Campaigns in Thailand last for just six weeks. Once ballot positions were determined and the six-week mark was reached, the streets were flooded with posters for the various candidates and parties. These posters measure about 9×4 and they seem to be affixed to every possible pole and tree in the city.
The Pheu Thai Party is typically associated with the “Red Shirt” protestors. The Red Shirts (also known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD) are a political group drawn predominately from rural Thailand. They are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the Pheu Thai party is a successor to Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party that was banned for violating election laws in 2006.
Thaksin was removed from power in 2006 by a military coup for abusing his power for personal gain. Prior to entering office, he had declared his assets at 15 billion baht (about $500 million at current exchange rates). When he was deposed, he had assets of 76 billion baht (about $2.5 billion.) He is currently in self-imposed exile in Dubai since he is facing prison time if he comes back to Thailand.
Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the Pheu Thai Party’s candidate for prime minister (picture of campaign poster on left). Their sister (Yaowapa Wongsawat) is the wife of Somchai Wongsawat, the prime minister who was elected in 2007 but ultimately removed for corruption. Thai politics almost makes the Clintons, the Kennedy clan, and the Bush family seem clean-cut and honest.
The Red Shirts are opposed by the “Yellow Shirts” or the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The Yellow Shirts are the more conservative people in Thailand, e.g., upper and middle-class people and the military, and they were the main force behind Thaksin’s ouster.
In Thailand, all eligible citizen’s are required to vote. However, there is a “No” box on the ballot for those who do not like any of the candidates. The PAD has put up campaign posters urging voters to vote “No”. Their posters (sample on left) show animal heads on human torsos and their message is simple: do not let animals into parliament. I could see the TEA Party going this way is the only choices were Democrats or RINOs.
Based on the placards that are everywhere, my favorite candidate is a grumpy looking fellow named Chuwit Kamolvisit. Take a look at the posters below. While he holds the obligatory baby, neither he nor the baby seem too happy about it. However, he clearly likes his dog and what more can you ask for?
Chuwit’s major campaign position is that he is against corruption, and this is pretty interesting since he used to be the largest massage parlor operator in Thailand. He freely admits to having paid millions of baht in bribes to hundreds of police officers, so I guess he knows a thing or two about corruption. He reminds me of the Engineer in Miss Saigon who sings the song “If You Want To Die In Bed”:
Why was I born of a race
That thinks only of rice
And hates entrepreneurs?
Me, I belong in a place
Where a man sets his price
And you pay, and he’s yours
I should be… American!
Where every promise lands
And every businessman knows where he stands
Some other campaign posters are below (with snarky comments, of course):
Before I close (and close I must), I want to give you one more picture that we took today. It was a little after noon when Theresa and I went out to take the pictures for the blog. While we were out, another photographer pointed up toward the sun. When we looked, we saw a rainbow-like ring completely around the sun and we took the picture below. How cool is this?
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.