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Thailand’s election timeline explained

Thailand’s election timeline explained

Thailand is entering “election mode” after two organic laws necessary for the next national vote were recently cleared by the Constitutional Court to be submitted for royal endorsement.

The House of Representatives’ four-year term expires on March 23, but many analysts expect Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to dissolve the House early in search of political advantage.

Royal endorsement of electoral laws

The Constitutional Court last month endorsed the two organic laws – the Political Parties Act and MP Election Act – which restore the two-ballot system and the party-list MPs calculation method of dividing total votes by 100. The previous general election in March 2019 used a single ballot and divided party-list votes by 500.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is in charge of government legal affairs, said he expected the electoral bills to be submitted for royal endorsement within this month. Wissanu said His Majesty the King has 90 days to consider the draft laws, so he expects them to be endorsed by March.

The court ruling came after petitions filed by MPs through the Parliament president. The court is expected to send its written verdict to the Parliament soon. The Parliament will then forward it to the government, which traditionally submits the final bill for royal endorsement within 20 days.

Will House dissolution affect electoral laws?

Even if the PM dissolves the House before its four-year term ends in March, the two organic laws will be enforced before the next general election once they get the royal stamp of approval, according to Wissanu.

He rejected speculation that the House cannot be dissolved while laws are pending royal endorsement. “There are no rules stating that bills are voided when the House is dissolved,” Wissanu said.

When can House dissolution be expected?

According to the Constitution, at the prime minister’s suggestion, His Majesty the King has the royal prerogative to dissolve the House in preparation for a general election to select new MPs. The House is dissolved by royal decree.

For many political observers, the question is not whether Gen Prayut will dissolve the House but when. The PM is expected to choose a time he deems will gain him maximum political advantage at the general election, which is tentatively scheduled for May 7 but could be earlier if he dissolves the House before March 23.

Certain opposition figures reckon he will dissolve the House by late December, but many political analysts are pointing to February or March.

When is the deadline for MPs to switch parties?

Electoral law stipulates that election candidates must have been members of their party for at least 90 consecutive days running up to election day. However, if the House of Representatives is dissolved early, the period is cut to 30 days.

So, a dissolution would give MPs less time to defect to a new party and contest the election under its banner.

Former election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn views that MPs who want to run under a new political party in the next election should switch sides at least 90 days before May 7, which is the tentative poll date set by the Election Commission. He calculates February 7 is the cut-off date for politicians who want to defect and contest the election under a new party.

Somchai, now chairman of the opposition Seri Ruam Thai Party’s policy steering committee, said that if MPs wait until after February 7 and there is no House dissolution, it would be “too late” for them to move.

Meanwhile, Deputy PM Wissanu said that if the House is dissolved, MPs may join a new party on the following day to contest the next election. This way, they can meet the 30-day party membership requirement as the law requires a gap of 45 days between a House dissolution and an election.

The Constitution stipulates that expiry of the House’s term must be followed by the calling of an election within 45 days. But if the House is dissolved, an election must be called any time between 45 and 60 days.

Will mass resignations of MPs lead to House dissolution?

Many incumbent and former MPs have defected to other political parties while several others seem to be waiting for the right time to follow suit.

Wissanu said that House meetings can continue even if the number of MPs is reduced to 200 of the 500 seats. “No laws state that the House must be dissolved after mass resignations of MPs. The existing MPs can still convene their meetings if they form a quorum,” he said.

Somchai agreed that the remaining number has no impact on the House’s work although he added that the PM might consider dissolving the House if more than half of MPs quit their seats.

“The number does not count. But there must be more remaining coalition MPs than opposition MPs, otherwise the government will not be able to push through its policies in the House,” he said.

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