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Thai Political Parties - 2001-2006

One reason for the large number of political parties in Thailand is that these are actually regional parties, with Democrats in the South, NAP or Thai Rak Thai in the Northeast, etc. In Thailand's Solid South, the Democrat Party is one of the frontrunners in every constituency region-wide. The Democrat Party maintained a weak political base in other areas, such as in the Northeast. Thaksin's supporters are mostly from the rural areas in the north and northeast.

Another reason is that prior to the 1997 Constitution, elections for the House of Representatives used an unusual bloc vote (BV) electoral system which combined multiseat constituencies with multiple votes and a plurality rule. Thailand's seventy-six provinces were divided into 142156 electoral constituencies, with each having two or three seats. Voters cast as many votes as there were seats, for individual candidates, not parties. After the 1983 Constitution, candidates were required to belong to a political party to stand for election, but were eligible to run as soon as they joined a party, and could switch parties as soon as they were elected. The 1997 Constitution established 400 single candidate consituencies, and 100 seats for nation-wide party lists, with voters casting separate ballots for each. To be eligible to run, candidates must be members of a political party for at least 90 days prior to an election. Once the House is dissolved, elections must be held within 45 to 60 days not enough time for party switchers to meet this membership requirement. The first elections under the 1997 constitution were held in 2000 for the previously un-elected Senate and 2001 for the House.

As Allen Hicken noted, "Many of the 1997 reforms were aimed at reshaping the Thai party system. Prior to the 1997 constitution, academics, the press, and politicians themselves blamed political parties and the Thai party system for a number of Thailands ills. These included unstable governments, the lack of needed policy reforms, government corruption, and a failure to anticipate and then respond to the crisis.... First, there were simply too many parties.... the large number of parties had undermined effective governance and contributed to unstable, short-lived governments.... A second criticism leveled at Thai political parties was that they were not cohesive. Rather than stable unions of like-minded politicians, Thai political parties tended to be short-lived alliances of convenience...."

Whereas previous governments had relied on fragile coalitions, since becoming prime minister in 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra had steadily increased his parliamentary power by forging alliances with other parties and attracting members of other parties to his Thai Rak Thai Party (Thai Loves Thai Party). Having garnered 248 seats in the House of Representatives, only two seats short of half the total House membership of 500, Thaksin forced the merger of coalition partners, both middle-size and smaller parties, with the Thai Rak Thai Party to form a uniform, single party in power. Coalition parties, such as the Phak Chat Thai Party (Thai Nation Party) and Pak Khwam Wang Mei (New Aspiration Party), were merged with the Thai Rak Thai. Opposition parties, such as the Phak Prachathipat Party (Democratic Party), were greatly weakened.

Constituency DistrictsParty List
Party % Votes %Seats Votes-
% Votes %Seats Votes-
Thai Rak Thai36.6450.00-13.36 40.6448.00-7.36
Prajadhipatthai25.8124.251.56 26.5831.00-4.42
Chart Thai8.558.75-0.25 5.326.00-0.68
Kwam Wang Mai9.577.002.57 7.028.00-0.92
Chart Pattana8.855.503.35 6.147.00-0.87
Seritam4.073.500.57 2.820.002.82
Others1.830.001.83 7.900.007.97
Constituency DistrictsParty List
Party % Votes % Seats Votes-
% Votes % Seats Votes-
Thai Rak Thai55.4977.50-22.01 61.1767.00-5.83
Prajadhipatthai24.9517.507.45 23.2226.00-2.78
Chart Thai10.534.506.03 6.647.00-0.36
Mahachon7.510.507.01 4.340.004.34
Other1.510.001.51 4.670.004.63

The Thai Rak Thais success in national elections allowed it to assume a more dominant position in government and to dictate policy much more easily. In the elections of February 2005, the Thai Rak Thai won 377 out of 500 seats, and for the first time in its history Thailand formed a democratically elected one-party government. The Thai Rak Thais growing domination engendered deep concerns over Thaksins overwhelming power and influence. In particular, objections frequently were raised about his tendency to reorganize the government and to reshuffle the cabinet with his personal friends and family members. After coming to power, Thaksin instituted 12 cabinet shuffles, the most recent in August 2005.

Despite TRT's modernized electoral organization and dominant political power, vote buying and personality-based campaigning still held sway with Thai voters. Public and parliamentary criticism of Thaksins regime eventually led to mass demonstrations in the latter months of 2005 and early 2006 and dissolution of parliament by Thaksin on February 24, 2006. Consequently, new elections were held on April 2, 2006. However, Thailands Constitutional Court invalidated the results after the opposition parties refused to compete against Thaksins Thai Rak Thai.

Active political parties included the Phak Prachathipat Party (Democratic Party); Phak Mahachon Party (Great Peoples Party); Phak Chat Thai Party (Thai Nation Party); and Thai Rak Thai Party (Thai Loves Thai Party). At first glance the Thai political landscape on the eve of the February 6, 2005 parliamentary elections looked cluttered. Thailand still had 39 registered political parties. Twenty parties fielded "party list" candidates and 24 parties were entered in some of the 400 contests for "constituency" seats in the Lower House of Parliament. The reality, however, was that four major political parties held virtually all seats in Parliament.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party were tipped for a large scale victory, perhaps one that would allow them to govern without forming a coalition. Most observers predicted that the TRT would win well over 300 party list and constituency seats in Parliament. The Democrat Party (DP) would remain the main opposition party but would fall far short of the 201 seats it had publicly set its sights on. The Chat Thai (CT) and Mahachon parties, the other two credible parties, could pick up between 50 - 65 seats according to the latest polls. If TRT did not gain a sufficiently large margin on its own to reach PM Thaksin's comfort level, the Chat Thai and/or Mahachon parties were presumed to be available to join the TRT in a stronger governing coalition. The CT had been in the coalition of Thaksin's first government, and Mahachon had made clear its readiness to ally with whomever best satisfied the interests of its key members.

In the country as a whole, Thai Rak Thai's (TRT) grip on 377 of Parliament's 500 seats was an unprecedented feat for a single party. A look at the 377 seats shows that Thaksin was actually atop what amounts to a four- or five-party coalition, i.e., more in line with recent Thai political experience. Leaving aside the 67 party list members who were elected on a national slate, a break out of the 310 constituency seats reveals the following: 165 previous TRT members, 46 from three defunct parties (Seritham-12, New Aspiration Party-17, and Chart Pattana-17) that merged with TRT, 21 defectors from other parties (Chart Thai-12, Rassadorn-1, and Democrat Party-5), 11 pre-2001 MPs and more than 40 "inheritances," i.e., sons and daughters of MPs from feudal-like constituencies. In putting together his cabinet this time around, Thaksin had to juggle and placate the various factions just as Prem Tinsulanonda or Chatchai Choonhavan used to have to do repeatedly with their unwieldy coalitions.

Thaksin had significantly altered the Thai political scene. In the 2001 and 2005 elections, he and his party campaigned on issues and promises (affordable health care, village loans), and then essentially delivered the goods. Thailand basically had a two-party system, with Thaksin having run the most recent campaign as a referendum on him, a referendum that he most definitely won. The opposition ws in disarray, with the Democrats having been reduced to a weak, regional party and the rest of the rabble having almost disappeared (or been absorbed by Thaksin's juggernaut). Thaksin accomplished this by mastering the reforms of the liberal 1997 constitution, which altered the electoral mechanics from three-member constituencies to the party list/single member format.

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