Upper House under fire

Upper House under fire

It is no secret that over the past three years, the Senate has been lambasted for favouring the government. The criticism is not entirely unfair. Out of 250 senators, 244 were selected by the National Council of Peace and Order, and they have a track record of resisting legal proposals to curb their ability to elect prime ministers.

It is such a pity that that's how the Upper House will be remembered. To be fair, the Upper House -- made up of highly regarded law experts -- has played a significant role in polishing difficult draft laws and fast-tracking historic human rights laws, such as the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Act.

Yet, the Upper House might be remembered instead for its role in preserving the right to co-elect prime ministers, a power granted under the current constitution.

A joint sitting of parliament in September rejected a charter amendment bill that would have ended that right. The bill received support from 333 MPs and 23 senators, while 102 MPs and 151 senators voted against it. Eight MPs and 45 senators abstained.

The bill, which included the elimination of the senators' right to co-elect prime ministers, was sponsored by 64,151 people who signed up to have the legislation presented in parliament.

If that wasn't enough to highlight the issue, Senate Speaker Pornpetch Wichit­cholchai on Jan 4 was quoted saying the Senate would consider "parliamentary stability as a factor in endorsing a particular [prime minister] candidate".

The statement made jaws drop. Previously, many senators said the Senate was neutral; therefore, it would not vote against the will of winning political parties.

Members of the public did not have to wait long for the Upper House to shock them. Last week, the Upper House once again came under fire over the Senate committee on political development and public participation reportedly floating the idea of revising Section 158, which stipulates that a prime minister may only serve a maximum of eight years in office, regardless of whether the four-year terms were served consecutively or not.

The panel had asked the King Prajadhipok's Institute to study the possibility of amending Section 158 of the Constitution, an unpopular idea.

The idea is being supported by a handful of senators led by Sen Seree Suwanpanont and Sen Kittisak Rattanawaraha. Sen Seree, chair of the committee on political development and public participation, has been criticised over the move.

Similarly, Sen Kittisak is of the opinion that a "decent person" should be allowed to serve as long as voters wish.

Despite senators being entitled to their opinions, and the proposal indeed just being an idea, the senators must not forget that discussion of the amendment of Section 158 and the PM's tenure are highly sensitive issues because changes can favour certain parties in the next election.

The study indeed raises a big question over its timing. Needless to say, it may be perceived as favouring Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who will run in the next election.

Section 158 is not on Gen Prayut's side, as it stipulates that if he wins, he will only serve a maximum of two years. That limitation puts Gen Prayut at a disadvantage.

That said, the Upper House must maintain a neutral role in the next election. Failing to do so will cause the Upper House to undermine the democracy that members have sworn to protect and uphold.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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