Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The flawed election of March 2019 was conducted under undemocratic rules written by Prayut’s military junta. The junta built a “Guided Democracy” system under their control. Important elements of this consist of the “National 20 Year Strategy” and various junta-appointed bodies, including the Senate, the Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court. Dictator Prayut has an in-built advantage due to his control of 250 military-appointed senators. This means that he can become Prime Minister if his military party, Palang Pracharut, is backed by votes from the Senate. Yet, Prayut and his party lost the popular vote to pro-democracy parties and had fewer elected seats.
The junta party did not win the popular vote, as claimed by the dictator himself, and echoed by the foreign media. We have to understand that the junta’s election rules resulted in fragmentation of political parties. This was a blatant anti-Taksin measure. In response, Taksin’s parties divided into two main parties, Pua Thai and Thai Raksa Chart, with a couple more minor parties like Pua Chart and Pracharchart. For this reason it is not valid to look at the number of votes won by just one party. A bigger picture of the popular vote for and against the regime needs to be viewed.
In the run up to the election, Prayut and his military junta remained in power. Pro-democracy civilian politicians were continually harassed and prevented from electioneering until the last minute, unlike the junta party.
The junta-appointed Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court dissolved Thai Raksa Chart Party because it proposed Princess Ubonrut as candidate for Prime Minister. This was a major act of election rigging by the junta. Despite complaints to the Electoral Commission about the junta party’s mis-use of public funds and the fact that Prayut should have been ineligible to stand as a Prime Ministerial candidate because he was still a “State Official”, no action was taken. All this shows the blatant manipulation of the election by the junta.
The Electoral Commission faced a number of questions about how it conducted the vote. Vote counting suddenly stopped for 3 days for no reason in the early hours of 25th March, when 94% of the votes were counted. More questions also arose because there were 2 million supposedly “spoilt votes”. Many voting stations had dubious numbers of votes which did not tally with the number of people registered to vote, there was much confusion about seat numbers, and votes from New Zealand took a week to arrive and were deemed “invalid” by the Commission. To top it all the final tally of votes announced on 28th March was full of discrepancies. No wonder then, that huge numbers of citizens believe that there was widespread fraud. Never the less, it is unlikely that any blatant large scale ballot box stuffing took place.
The shambles over the election results was likely to be a combination of total incompetence by the Electoral Commission and minor fraud.
The commission claim that the final number of seats for each party would not be declared until May! This gives the Commission plenty of time to disqualify any candidates or parties opposed to the junta.
Despite the flawed nature of the election, the voting process provided an opportunity for citizens to express a vote of no confidence in the dictatorship by voting for Pua Thai, Pua Chart, Pracharchart, Future Forward and Seri Ruam Thai Parties. Even though the precise figures are problematic, the overall picture of the voting tally remained the same since 25th March. The pro-democracy side won the popular vote.
The majority of voters were not stupid. They knew in their heart of hearts that the junta had fixed the rules. Yet despite this, they wanted to optimistically dream that placing a cross against pro-democracy parties could destroy the junta. The alternative to this would be to accept that a long hard struggle against the junta would be necessary. This is understandable. But now people are waking up.
The junta party lost the popular vote
Pua Thai and Future Forward Party won 7.9 and 6.3 million votes, respectively. Their combined popular vote is therefore 14.2 million. If three other minor parties which are opposed to the junta are counted, the combined anti-junta vote stands at 15.9 million or 41.5%.
The junta’s party, Palang Pracharrut, won 8.4 million votes. Two parties which stated before the election that they would ally with the junta, Poomjai Thai and Sutep’s Ruam Palang Pracharchart Thai Parties won 3.7 million and 0.4 million votes, respectively, bringing the combined pro-junta vote to only 12.5 million or 32.6%.
The Democrat Party vote is not counted in the above combined pro-junta tally because before the election, their leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, declared that they would not support Prayut for Prime Minister.
The Democrat Party suffered a big defeat, gaining only 4 million votes, down from 11.4 million in the 2011 election. They failed to get a single seat in Bangkok. Sutep’s mafia-style grip on his home province in the south was also destroyed and his party performed abysmally.
The NGO-influenced Commoners’ party also performed badly, winning only five thousand votes.
Seats in the 500 seat elected parliament are split between 350 constituency seats and 150 party list seats. The allocation of “party list” seats under the junta’s rules is a ridiculously complicated affair, designed to weigh against large parties like Pua Thai. The numbers of party list seats will not be confirmed until May and can easily change. Estimates of total numbers of seats point to Pua Thai gaining 137 seats and Future Forward gaining 89 seats.
Seven parties, led by Pua Thai and Future Forward, announced on 27th March that they would try to form an anti-junta government. Other parties supporting this coalition include Pua Chart, Pracharchart, Seri Ruam Thai, Palang Buangchon Thai and the New Economics Parties. Together the combined number of anti-junta seats should be around 256, which is a majority of the lower house. However, The New Economics Party’s 6 seats may not be reliable and the number of seats may change.
The junta party was estimated to have 121 seats, lower than Pua Thai. Combined with Poomjai Thai and Sutep’s party, the combined pro-junta seats stand at around 179. But if the Democrats use their 56 seats to support the junta, breaking their manifesto promise, the total number of seats still only reaches 235. Yet, the junta is claiming that it has the “right” to form a government. They may also use the 250 military-appointed senators to claim a majority.
The political divisions in Thai society have not changed significantly
The turnout was 74.7% of the 51.2 million electorate. This is similar to the turn out in the 2011 election where the turnout was 75% of a smaller electorate of 46.9 million.
It looks like the anti-democratic middle-class, or former yellow shirts, switched to voting directly for the junta instead of the “junta-proxy” Democrats, which they had supported back in 2011. The 2011 election was held soon after the bloody crackdown against the red shirts by the military installed Democrat government. This switch in voting explains why the junta party did well. It cannot be described as a “surge in support” for dictatorship.
If we factor in the enlarged electorate since 2011, we can see that the number of votes for the junta party and the Democrat Party combined, was similar to the Democrat vote in 2011.
The Pua Thai votes dropped from 15.7 million in 2011 to 7.9 million in 2019. This reflected the fact that Pua Thai deliberately did not stand in all constituencies in order not to split the vote with its sister party Thai Raksa Chart. The latter was then disbanded by the Constitutional Court. The disbanding of the Thai Raksa Chart party may have caused confusion and may have helped increase votes for Poomjai Thai party from 1.3 to 3.7 million. This party was made up of some former Taksin-allied politicians who now support the junta. The electorate also had two main choices between large anti-junta parties: Pua Thai and Future Forward. This was not the case in 2011.
Banal statement by the King
Just before Election Day, Wachiralongkorn urged the Thai people to “vote for good people”. He could not even manage to come up with this banal statement on his own, having to quote one of his late father’s statements. Conspiracy theorists wet themselves with excitement, claiming that this was an intervention in the election on behalf of the military because the junta had spent years claiming to be good people. Of course, these claims were pure nonsense. Firstly, figures showed that no one who was opposed to the military took the slightest notice of this. The same goes for pro-junta voters. Secondly, this kind of banal statement is typical of the kind of thing that the Thai monarchy has always said. It is meaningless, neutral and open to anyone to interpret in any way they wish. In short, it was irrelevant to the election.
The crisis of democracy will not be resolved in parliament
Both in terms of the popular votes for and against the junta and the estimates of seats, Prayut has no legitimate democratic claim to form a government. But that may not stop him from muscling his way into government. He has already claimed the right to form a government because his party won most votes, ignoring the higher combined votes against the junta. Even if he does not install himself as Prime Minister, the military will still use every means possible stop a civilian government from functioning normally. As Taksin wrote recently in a New York Times article, whichever side forms a government there will be instability.
Only the pressure from a mass social movement can prevent the military from stealing the election or, in the event of a new government led by the Pua Thai and Future Forward parties, such a movement will be vital to ensure that the government can move forward to dismantle the legacy of the dictatorship. Parliamentary politics on its own cannot achieve this.