This is not democracy

This is not democracy

Senators' show of force at a joint parliamentary vote for a new prime minister on Wednesday night suggests this is just the beginning of the nightmare for those who fear Upper House members will end up acting as the loyal representatives of the military regime.

Of course, the senators proved they "have brains", as junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha who handpicked them, insisted back in February when he played down criticism about their possible bias. But their brains happened to instruct them to make the same, undisputed decision on the fateful night: Vote for Gen Prayut as premier.

With additional votes from the pro-junta political camp in the Lower House, their goal is now accomplished. Gen Prayut remains Thailand's prime minister. But this is not their only powerful role. The regime-sponsored 2017 constitution makes them the deciding factor in other key areas of lawmaking. This means their very existence during the next five years poses an existential threat to the country's already stumbling democracy.

Given that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) appointed its allies, colleagues and family members to sit in the Senate, only a handful of observers were hopeful that the senators would be independent. And they were wrong.

Wednesday's vote shows how much influence the 250 senators can have over the majority of 500 MPs. With 249 votes from the Senate, as its speaker abstained from voting, Gen Prayut needed just 127 votes from the Lower House to secure victory. And it will be the same story for other legislative tasks of the Senate, mainly amendments to the charter and national reform.

Many political parties have pledged to amend undemocratic provisions of the charter, including the parts concerning the Senate. But the constitution dictates that any amendments require a joint vetting by both houses. Approval in principle of amendment bills must be agreed by at least one third of the senators. The senators could also veto any charter amendment efforts given that they have already proven themselves to be loyal to the regime. Meanwhile, if a bill proceeds for final vetting, it needs to be passed by more than half of the lawmakers in both houses.

The charter also requires that any legislation relevant to the national reform agenda broadly defined therein needs the Senate's vetting. Approval of such laws needs more than half of the vote in both houses.

These new rules need to be changed because they do not represent the will of the people in parliament. While the 500 MPs represent about 35 million people who voted in the last polls, the senators were screened and picked by a small group of 15 NCPO members. This is not democracy.

Supporters of the regime have usually justified the existence of these senators by claiming that the constitution was passed in the 2016 charter referendum. That is true. But we must not forget that the regime and the Election Commission did not ensure sufficient understanding of the draft charter while threatening those who tried to run no-vote campaigns with both arrest and persecution.

The country needs to do away with this group of senators as well as new groups to be selected by professional groups. Thailand needs to get back to an elected Senate that is accountable to the electorate. Without amendments to the charter, this will never happen and the same 250 senators will still be the key players in the next vote for a new PM. By then, we could be inching closer towards becoming a failed democracy.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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