The difficult funding of Thailand’s political parties


Partyforumseasia: All political parties of the world need money, and they need more and more money, especially in Southeast Asia. Election campaigns here have become more costly every year because the voters have been sort of spoiled with entertainment, gifts, transportation to rallies, and most important of all, by the opportunity of selling their vote to one of the candidates or even several of them.

Elections with enormous turnovers by vote buying and “donations” to local constituencies are common all over the region, and Thailand played quite an interesting role in this development. A real godfather of money politics was the former Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa, who earned the nickname Mr. ATM (automatic teller machine) for his useful skills in channeling big amounts of money at the right time into willing voters’ hands.

The bad reputation of this type of money politics is also creating attempts to reduce or even eradicate it. A newly published research paper of the ISEAS Yussuf Ishak Institute at Singapore by Punchada Sirivunnabood gives an interesting glimpse into the efforts to create some transparency for the party funding. Thailand has already some experience with state funding or party funding with taxpayers’ money. But as usual, good intentions don’t necessarily yield good results.

Punchada shows the trappings of giving money to parties who need much more than they can ever get from this type of programs:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Thailand introduced the Political Party Development Fund in 1998 as a means of providing state subsidies for political parties.

Law makers hoped that such financing would be an effective means of curbing illicit fundraising and vote buying. More importantly, subsidization would support small and new parties and promote their organizational development.

The Political Party Development Fund proved a double-edged sword, however. While it provided resources for the development of parties, it also encouraged small parties to set up numerous branches and to increase their membership for the purpose of maximizing their shares of subsidies.

The 2017 Organic Law on Political Parties introduced a new method of allocating Political Party Development Fund subsidies to political parties, with the goal of solving corruption problems associated with the existence of many small parties.

Punchada Sirivunnabood is a Visiting Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme of the ISEAS –Yusof Ishak Institute

The full text is available under
https://www.iseas.edu.sg/images/pdf/ISEAS_Perspective_2019_50.pdf

For a regional overview see

 

 

Thailand: Which Election System Under A New Constitution?


Partyforumseasia: Thailand is holding some dubious world records, namely the number of military coups and the number of constitutions. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the average life span of a constitution was about four years. The military government under general-prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gave up on the Prayuthlast draft after nine months of gestation under rejection pressure from practically all political parties. The most controversial among the 285 articles was the creation of a so called National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee (NSRRC) with the commanders of all the military services and the police and sweeping powers to interfere even after successful elections and the establishment of civilian government. Abandoning the draft constitution extends the military rule through mid 2017.
Meanwhile, the discussions within the new drafting committee (CDC) may give some clues about what the generals want to avoid. Last week a panel of the CDC was discussing the future electoral system and the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) system which was part of the rejected draft constitution. The proponents and supporters had studied the German system which works well for decades now. It gives two votes to the voters, one for a candidate and one for a party of his preference. One argument against its adoption  was that it would necessitate an electronic system not available so fast  in Thailand, which it does not have in Germany either, though. The system was seen as a safeguard against one-party rule and favoring coalition governments and smaller parties. For the generals, meanwhile, coalition governments with possibly a multitude of small parties may seem too weak to reconcile the country and push for consolidating necessary reforms.
A viable reform of Thailand’s democratic institutions hits the ceiling of decades of wrong developments. This was openly addressed by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, former chairman of the political reform committee under the now-defunct National Reform Council, by saying that the major challenge to the Thai system was that most of the MPs came to power through election fraud. Century-old patterns of leadership in the social structures have undermined the establishment of really free and fair elections and advanced the continuous proliferation of vote buying and violent intimidation of voters. THB donationsThe collusion between dubious local business elites („chao pho“) who enjoy profitable concessions and monopolies which often cover partially unlawful activities on one side and politicians, bureaucrats, police and military on the other side as well as more and more „chao pho“ in parliament themselves. The system has been “perfected” over the last few decades by a variety of vote canvassers („hua khanaen“) on local, provincial and regional level who sort of guarantee a mandate to the candidate who offers the best price. To be fair, it must be mentioned that Thailand is not the only country in the region with this problem, among others Indonesia can compete on that level.
The ongoing political uncertainty is aggravated by another major uncertainty, the pending royal succession. But it is not excluded that the military may have a better chance to control the transformation than any unstable coalition government.

For a detailed overview on Thailand’s party politics see: Dusadeeisariyakul, Pimrapaat, Stability and Performance of Political Parties in Thailand
in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014
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