Thai election explainer – Constitution, House and Senate

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Maha Vajiralongkorn

Thailand’s democratic structure consists of a Constitution, House of Representatives and Senate. The constitutional monarchy is ruled by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the head of state. The king has limited formal power but is highly influential in politics. He has significant influence over the military.

Constitution, House and Senate – Constitution

The current constitution was developed by a committee appointed by the military and approved in a tightly controlled 2016 referendum. It is the 17th version of the Thai constitution. To call a document, which is overhauled every four or five years, a constitution is an absurdity.

In most countries a constitution is a politically-neutral document that ensures continuity – the country continues to run in predictable ways which are widely considered fair, regardless of short-term volatility. Traditionally, constitutions are difficult to change – they are the foundation of the democratic edifice. Alterations to constitutions generally have a much higher bar than ordinary legislation. In most countries, the approval of around two-thirds of representatives is required rather than a simple majority.

In Thailand, constitutions are torn up by whoever has just snatched power and hastily rewritten, usually by a fancy-named committee devoted to eternal peace and order. The purpose of the constitution is to meddle with the electoral system to keep the latest tinpot in power while preventing the current “dark forces” from taking power. Currently, the constitution is focused on keeping the Shinawatra clique out of power. Why this is a good and bad idea will be explored in another article closer to polling day.

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According to the latest version of the constitution, the Thai prime minister is elected by a vote of the combined 500-seat elected House of Representatives and the 250-seat Senate, whose members are entirely appointed by the military.

Constitution, House and Senate – House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is the lower house of the National Assembly and the legislative branch of the government. The system is modelled after Westminster. The House has 500 members, all of which are democratically elected, with 400 members chosen through single-member constituency elections, and the other 100 through a confounding party-list system. The list system is central to much of the corruption we are forced to endure, government after government.

In the broadest terms, these 400 members are what the election is all about. Selection of the 100 list candidates is chaotic and vague, and much more a question for parties than for the electorate. List candidates are generally the party bigwigs, unelectable in their own right and far too rich and important to actually require anything so primitive as public approval. If you are looking for a vested interest, look to the party lists. It would be unfair to say that the party list system was behind all of Thailand’s problems.

Constitution, House and Senate – Senate

The Senate (formerly known as Phruetthasapha) is the upper house of the National Assembly. The Senate is described as a non-partisan legislative chamber – basically, that means unelected. Senators comprise 250 members all of which are appointed by the Royal Thai Military. A term in the Senate is six years. Members may not hold any additional office or membership in political parties.

Both Senate and House were abolished after the 2014 coup d’état and replaced with the unicameral National Legislative Assembly, a body of 250 members, appointed by the military. However, the 2017 constitution re-established the Senate as a council of 250 military appointees.

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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