Thai Reformer Calls For Shrinking Parliament To Combat Corruption

Yingluck Shinawatra canvassed for votes during the 2011 election, which she eventually won in a landslide, in Bangkok on 30 June 2011. She was assisted by the three children of her brother, the influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

BANGKOK — A prominent member of the junta’s National Reform Council (NRC) has called for downsizing Thailand’s parliament to one fifth of its current size in an effort to limit the influence of political parties.

Chai-anand Samutvanich, a former Chulalongkorn University political science lecturer recently appointed to the NRC, proposed slashing the number of MPs in Thailand's House of Representatives from 500 to 77.

"If there are many MPs, there's more chance of corruption," Chai-anand said. "With the [MP election process] focused on a local level, people in the region can easily discover if corruption is taking place."

The reform would allocate one MP to each province, vastly increasing the number of voters the politicians represent. Under the previous constitution, 375 MPs were chosen in first-past-the-post elections to represent single constituencies drawn up based on population.

The proposal would also abolish the party-list system that allowed political parties to run candidates who did not represent any specific constituency. The now-defunct 2007 constitution allocated 125 parliamentary seats to candidates elected through the proportional party-list system.

According to Chai-anand, who was an active campaigner against the former government, the reform would promote "de-centralisation," reduce corruption, and decrease the influence of political parties.  

He also suggested that taking away MP’s power to elect a Prime Minister could help reduce "conflict of interests" among political actors.

"A Prime Minister does not have to be voted by the MPs," Chai-anad said, without elaborating who would have the authority to name a Prime Minister. 

A staunch critic of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the successive pro-Thaksin governments, Chai-anand has long expressed scepticism of electoral politics and argued that politicians like Thaksin abused the voting system by establishing a "dictatorship of the majority" in Parliament. 

Votes from Thaksin's fiercely loyal support base in Thailand's rural North and Northeast have swept his parties into power in every national election since 2001.

"The correct democratic governance needs to have quality people,” said Chai-anad. “Therefore, the solution is to create quality people who are not easily fooled, who value rights more than money, who do not easily believe in rumours or blindly follow their leaders."

Chai-anad is considered a prominent thinker in Thailand’s Yellowshirt faction, which consists mostly of urban conservatives who view rural pro-Thaksin voters as "uneducated" country folk whose votes have been purchased by politicians. 

Under the junta's 2014 interim charter, the NRC is tasked with proposing reforms to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), whose members were also handpicked by the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The NRC is widely expected to enact reforms that make Thailand’s political system less democratic, as was the case in the reform process that followed the most recent coup. In the 2006 coup, the military appointed a committee to draft a constitution that replaced Thailand’s fully-elected Senate with a half-elected, half-appointed body. 

The current junta, which seized power on 22 May, says it is committed to implementing "national reconciliation" and "reforms" in Thailand.

However, critics of the coup view the reform procedure as a sham aimed at dismantling Thailand's democratic system and eliminating the influence of Thaksin and his allies from politics. 

Their suspicion appears to have been somewhat confirmed by the formation of the NRC, which is stacked with anti-Thaksin hardliners like Chai-anand, Charas Suwanmala, Jermsak Pinthong, and Rosana Tositrakul. 

 

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