What will professional organization constituencies mean for Thailand?By Bangkok Pundit Jun 05, 2014 9:29AM UTC
In 2008, the PAD proposed ‘New Politics’ in which up to 70% of MPs would be elected from various professions and 30% elected from constituencies. Essentially, the 70% (although in later reiterations it went down to as low as 50%), would be like the Hong Kong functional constituencies, with professions and business dominating. Chang Noi noted:
Since the logic of the PAD’s proposal is to disenfranchise the rural poor, this new system is likely to favour the rich, the urban, and the higher educated.
BP: This proposal has been on the backburner as the PAD have had little political influence, but Suthep essentially rekindled the idea with this People Assembly proposal in late 2013. BP saw little mention of the division between those elected from geographical constituencies (ie. what we have for MPs currently) versus functional constituencies. The implied suggestion is it would be 100% functional constituencies, although Suthep’s proposal was different as the actual PAD New Politics proposal called for elections within the professions, but Suthep only mentioned selection which implies an outside body appointing rather than elections. For more on what Suthep said, see this post.
The relevance of all of this is as per the Bangkok Post now:
All 200 members of the new National Legislative Assembly, the coupmakers’ new parliament, are likely to be appointed.
Members will also be appointed to the planned National Reform Council, which will comprise 150 members, 140 of from professional groups and educational institutions and the rest law experts, according to a Krungthep Turakit report, quoting a source in the NCPO.
The two bodies are instrumental in the planned second stage of the NCPO’s roadmap to reconciliation, reform and elections.
BP: Per Prayuth last Friday, the National Legislative Assembly will draft the Constitution, but the National Reform Council will be established to resolve conflicts so it is unclear the extent of the role the later will have in advising on constitutional reform. BP has previously predicated there is a good chance that the newly drafted constitution will seek to divide the lower house into geographical constituencies and functional constituencies. BP is unsure what the exact breakdown will be, but it is likely that the functional constituencies will compromise 30-50% of the seats. Connors also views this is a likely option per Bloomberg:
The junta may opt for a more tightly controlled parliament with many of the seats filled by appointed representatives that support the elite, said Connors, author of: “Democracy and National Identity in Thailand.” “We might see Thailand transition towards a more guided democracy, one say that looks like Hong Kong with a mix of occupational and appointed representatives.”
BP: These constituencies consisting of occupational/professional representatives exist in Hong Kong (although it is slightly broader than that) are called functional constituencies. They also exist in Macau, but there is much less written about Macau so will mainly focus on Hong Kong. What has happened in Hong Kong provides an illustration of what could happen in Thailand (no doubt it will not be exactly the same in terms of formation, but BP expects the result will be essentially the same). There are currently five geographical constituencies in Hong Kong with each geographical constituency having between 430,000-900,000+ voters in each electorate. There is not one seat per constituency. It is as below:
NOTE: The above chart along with the other two charts are screenshots from Wikipedia.
BP: So as of now there are 35 seats from geographical constituencies.
How about the functional constituencies? There are 28 traditional functional constituencies as per the below:
BP: Each of the above gets one seat except for Labor which gets 3 seats so 27+3 = 30 seats for the above functional constituencies. Need one point out the obvious that there are significant differences in terms of the number of voters in each constituency (in political science, this is called malapportionment). The Heung Yek Yee functional constituency has 155 individuals voters, but education has more than 88,000. In any parliamentary system, it is impossible to make each constituency exactly equal in size and in some countries the problem becomes bigger over time as rules written in the past on the division of seats per province/state are slow to change in line with population changes (i.e more people moving from rural areas to urban areas) with rural constituencies often smaller in size of voters than urban constituencies. However, the gap in size in the professional constituencies in Hong Kong is so stark.
“Bodies” include businesses so very big businesses in some sectors have a huge voting block. “For example, in 1998, Sino Group chairman Robert Ng and companies he controlled held roughly 3-4% of the votes in the real estate constituency, according to an analysis by the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor; they described this as being equivalent in voting power to 15,940 people in a geographical constituency” (source). The bodies part may be dropped for Thailand though or at least modified to exclude businesses.
There are also five seats from the District Council (Section) Functional Constituency as per the Wikipedia description:
Only the elected members of the District Councils can become nominees and nominate candidates. Nominees have to get at least 15 nominations in order to run and are elected by all registered voters who are not the voters of other functional constituencies (including uncontested functional constituencies). The constituency covers all regions of Hong Kong.
Since most of the voters are not in the other functional constituencies, the District Council (Second) constituency is considered as a de facto direct election and the members elected is thus called the “Super District Councillors” or “5 Super Seats”. The constituency is elected with the proportional representative method with largest remainder method.
BP: The District Council (Second) was basically to accommodate the pro-Democrats and are essentially like geographical constituencies as noted by Hong Kong journalist in a paper:
The approved changes may not appear to be huge milestones, but they are significant because Chinese officials had previously opposed upsetting the equal divide of Legislative Council seats between the popularly elected geographical constituencies and the functional constituencies. The changes mean that, from next year, 40 of the 70 members will be elected more or less directly by Hong Kong voters.
So we have geographical constituencies (35), traditional functional constituencies (30) and newer functional constituency which is indirectly like a geographical constituency (5). The end result for the 2012 election was:
BP: So the pro-Democrats just have a majority for the geographical constituencies (18-17) although as % they have a 14% lead but because the pro-Beijing camp wins on the functional constituencies (26-9), they have a clear majority (43-27) even though the pro-Beijing camp voters are a minority. This was the same for the 1998, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Legislative Council elections. Can we see the appeal to the Establishment of making 30-50% of all lower house seats functional constituencies? Is there any doubt where a vast majority of representatives from lawyers, public health, and various other professional sectors will side? It would severely weaken the pro-Thaksin party….
It won’t matter any longer that the Democrats can’t win an election because they don’t need them to win. As long as they do okay then together with the functional constituency seats – which BP doesn’t have much doubt will go to the Establishment in a similar proportion to Hong Kong – the Establishment is unbeatable. Screw trying to come out with policies that people want to vote for when you can just change the rules of the game.
BP realizes the above is quite simplistic so will also seek to blog – in another post – some further analysis of the Hong Kong system. The above should be seen as introduction only.
Back to the National Reform Council, not only will it consist of professional organizations, but also educational institutes. They are solidly on the PDRC side as demonstrated by their support for the PDRC position of an interim government last year.
Btw, the Hong Kong system of large multi-member constituencies with a party-list vote, may also be adopted in Thailand as well…