A negative gesture by outspoken Senator Wanchai Sornsiri towards Pheu Thai's prospective "landslide" victory and its candidacy for the premiership has cast the upper house in bad light.
Sen Wanchai this month posted a note on his FB page, saying the Senate would not vote for Paetongtarn "Ung-Ing" Shinawatra, daughter of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, as the next prime minister even if Pheu Thai Party wins the next election by a landslide.
In his FB post, "250 MPs or senators, who will make a landslide win?" the senator questioned Ms Paetongtarn's leadership and political experience.
Thaksin's youngest daughter is a novice politician. This is the first time she has entered politics, acting as Pheu Thai's chief adviser on public participation and innovation.
Without the Senate's support, Pheu Thai needs to win at least 376 House seats -- more than half of the combined 750 members of both chambers -- to be able to secure the high profile job for its candidate. While some senators have downplayed Sen Wanchai's controversial remarks, saying it's just his personal view, the Upper House's performance, cleaving to the line taken by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government, leaves the public cautious.
The 250-strong Senate which was set up under the military-sponsored 2017 constitution has the power to name a prime minister during its five-year tenure. Its mandate which is to last five years is stipulated under Section 272 of the supreme law.
By any standard, Sen Wanchai's remarks are an insult to voters and only bode ill for the country's democratisation and political system. Inarguably, the Upper House does have a mandate as stipulated by the charter, but the institution must realise that this ill-gotten mandate which enabled the ex-junta to prolong its power in politics is one of the key factors attributing to political conflicts.
After the 2019 election, 249 out of 250 senators (with an abstention by the Senate Speaker) voted for Gen Prayut, making it possible for the army-chief-turned-politician to lead a coalition by a razor-thin majority. In past years, the government has depended on its support for all key laws, particularly a law for a 500-billion baht loan for tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.
More importantly, the Upper House, together with so-called independent agencies like the Constitutional Court, played a key role in pulling the plug on charter amendment efforts made by the civic groups which tried to end the military's dominance in politics.
But everybody knows that it's the 2017 constitution, with undemocratic clauses including the Senate's role in naming a premier, that has helped fuel conflicts over the past years.
For the forthcoming elections, it's speculated that most, if not all senators, will back the ex-junta leaders, either Gen Prayut who leads the United Thai Nation Party (UTN), or Prawit Wongsuwon, leader of the Palang Pracharath Party.
If so, the country will remain trapped in the same old political strife. Instead of kowtowing to the old powers, the Senate should do a service to the country, respect the people's voice and allow democracy to run its course.