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The Cost of Not Coordinating: Could the Opposition have won 376 seats?

By Joel Sawat Selway

Figure 1. The parties in the proposed "Opposition" coalition

Source: ThaiPBS World

Much of the talk in the post-elections period has been whether the Move Forward-Pheu Thai coalition can gain the 376 votes needed from a joint sitting of the House and Senate in order to form a government. Given the surprising performance of Move Forward, one cannot help but wonder if competition between the two main coalition partners split the votes of the electorate.

The current coalition of six parties combines to 309 seats. That leaves 67 seats shy of their target, which they could get, of course, with support in the senate or from other “neutral” parties, such as Bhumjaithai (70 seats) and Democrat (24 seats) parties. Both those parties sit in the outgoing coalition aligned with the military Palang Pracharat party (PPRP), however, while the Senate was appointed in its entirety by the military.

But what if the two parties had coordinated prior to the elections and agreed not to compete in the same constituencies? This is a hypothetical scenario, I know, but one that intrigued me. So, I ran the numbers!

In Chonburi constituency #10, Pheu Thai lost the seat to PPRP by 74 votes—just 0.08% of the 93,252 people that turned out to vote. In six constituencies nationwide, Pheu Thai was within 1% of the winner. With just a minimal amount of coordination, then, they could have increased by six votes immediately. But this masks numerous constituencies in which they both polled highly making the difference between the highest votegetter and the winner larger, whereas combined they got in excess of 50% of the vote. In that same constituency (Chonburi #10), the winner (PPRP) got just 29.45%. Combined, Pheu Thai and Move Forward got 57.21%. Across the nation, they got over 50% of the vote combined, but lost the seat in 14 constituencies!

To calculate how many seats they could have got through coordination, I made the following assumptions:

1. If one of the parties did not run, all the votes go the other party.

2. The party that got the actual highest number of votes in the election gets the seat

3. There is counter coordination from the two-largest conservative parties (PPRP and the United Thai Nation Party, or UTN) in those constituencies

4. The Bhumjaithai (BJT) and Democrat (DP) parties do not coordinate with PPRP and UTN, but other small conservative parties do if they are the second-largest conservative party.

I will proceed in my analysis by region.

The North

The PT-MFP coalition could have picked up eight more seats in the North, six for Pheu Thai and two for MFP. Two of those seats are dependent on BJT and/or the DP refraining from joining the conservative counter-coalition. In Phayao 2, Thammanat’s stronghold, they could have hammered the winner, who got just 33.04% compared to their combined 56.76% of the vote. Most of the seats are taken from PPRP (six in total).

Result: PT+6,MFP+2

Table 1. Electoral Coordination in Northern constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if BJT or DP refrain from joining conservative counter coordination

Central Region

The PT-MFP coalition could have picked up twelve seats in Central region, with seven for PT and five for MFP. Three of these seats depend on BJT/DP not entering the conservative counter coalition. There are five constituencies here where they combined have over 50% of the vote, including the Chonburi #10 example discussed above. BJT loses six seats, while PPRP loses four.

Result: PT +7, MFP +5

Table 2. Electoral Coordination in Central constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if BJT or DP refrain from joining conservative counter coordination

The South

PT-MFP only pick up two seats in the South and they both depend on the Democrat Party not joining the conservative counter coordination effort. The winners in both these constituencies did not poll a high percentage of votes, with the Democrat Party in Nakhon Sri Thammarat 1 picking up just 22.32%! MFP gets both these seats.

Result: MFP+2

Table 3. Electoral Coordination in Southern constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if DP refrains from joining conservative counter coordination

Lower Isaan

Moving on to BJT’s heartland, PT-MFP could have picked up eleven more seats, almost all at the expense of BJT. Buriram #7 really stands out here, where PT lost by just 0.24%, while combined they got 54.12% of the vote. BJT would have to depend on PPRP five times to withstand the PT-MFP coordination, but as a reminder I am assuming that does not happen. Pheu Thai is the main neneficiary again with eight extra seats, with MFP piking up 3.

Result: PT+8, MFP +3

Table 4. Electoral Coordination in Lower Isaan constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if BJT/DP refrains from joining conservative counter coordination

Middle Isaan

PT-MFP need the help of a PT off-shoot party, the Thai Sang Thai party in a couple of constituencies, but but add eight—six for PT and two for MFP—in the mid-region of Isaan. BJT lose four and PPRP three. Khon Kaen #4 is where they have the highest combined vote total of 54.05%.

Result: PT+6, MFP +2

Table 5. Electoral Coordination in Middle Isaan constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if BJT/CTP refrains from joining conservative counter coordination

**Need to coordinate with Sudarat’s Thai Sang Thai party too

Upper Isaan

Finally, we come to the upper region of the Isaan where we have the lowest average win percentage. BJT and PPRP won these ten constituencies with win percentages mostly in the low thirties. PT is the main beneficiary, taking nine constituencies. MFP gets just one. This is also the region with the most number of constituencies in which the combined vote of PT and MFP was over 50%. We can really see how competition between these two parties robbed them of ten more seats.

Result: PT+9, MFP+1

Table 6. Electoral Coordination in Upper Isaan constituencies that result in seat gains for PT-MFP

*PT-MFP win if BJT/DP refrains from joining conservative counter coordination

So, in total, using this methodology, Pheu Thai could have picked up 36 more seats, while MFP an additional 17, a total of 53 seats. This would have made the final tallies Pheu Thai 177, Move Forward 168. So, one story is that competition between these two parties robbed Pheu Thai of the title of largest party. They lost 29 seats in the two regions where they have been most popular since 2001, the North and Northeast, because of MFP. Regardless, if we add these 57 seats to the 309 in the coalition, we get 366 seats, just ten shy of the 376 needed to proceed without the Senate, or the “neutral” parties.

In sum, competition between Pheu Thai and Move Forward meant that the Opposition performed less well than it could have done. This is already a massive moment for Thai democracy, but it could have been even more.


A final caveat: the conservative parties may also have gained from electoral competition. I will deal with this in a future post. We know that PPRP, UTN, and DP completely fragmented the vote in the South, and Phuket went entirely to Move Forward. A simple coordination between PPRP and UTN would have saved that province. But I’ll leave that for a future post.

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