Election Commission must get new Senate poll right
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Election Commission must get new Senate poll right

The Senate election will start by the middle of this month, with the race shrouded with ambiguity and confusion. While the appointment of a new higher chamber is touted as part of democracy, members of the public remain in the dark.

With only a week to go, the Election Commission (EC) has provided scant information about the race. The agency concedes that scores of people have little -- or no -- idea about the elections for the 200-member Senate, which will replace the military-appointed Upper House, whose term is set to expire next Saturday.

The election process, designed by the charter drafting panel under legal guru Meechai Ruchupan, is peculiar. It involves cross-voting and drawing among the candidates. The process, which is designed to make The Upper House neutral and free from political intervention, has become a problem in itself.

In accordance with the 2017 constitution, the 200 new senators will represent 20 professional groups, including labour, public health, education, farmers, civic, media and social work groups.

The candidates will vote among themselves in three stages -- district, provincial and national. Each candidate, who must be over 40 years old, is required to pay a 2,500 baht application fee and can only introduce him or herself briefly. Canvassing is strictly not allowed, and they cannot give interviews to the media in their capacity as senate candidates.

Academics and activists have voiced concern over manipulation and collusion among groups of candidates, especially if only a few join the race, given the lack of PR campaigns by the EC.

As the poll agency seems not to care about inadequate public knowledge, iLaw and affiliate civic groups have launched a web page, senate67.com, to provide a platform for would-be candidates, which it hopes will narrow the knowledge gap.

The page encourages would-be candidates to put their names and personal information, including experience. This will give netizens a chance to examine potential candidates' qualifications and monitor the race. The groups are organising public talks and preparing for campaign activities in Bangkok and the provinces.

According to the Senate67 webpage, the EC will announce the registration date on May 13, two days after the expiry of the current Senate. District-level registration is set to begin on June 9, followed by provincial and national levels.

The EC is, however, cautious about this civic sector move, saying it breaches the charter, which prohibits the use of social media channels in the race. Therefore, it has warned web administrators and would-be candidates who are considering joining the group campaign of these stiff regulations with severe penalties. The media has also earned a slap on the wrist and been told they cannot run the candidate list or conduct interviews with candidates.

Such warnings have ignited public outcry. The civic groups suspended some activities advertised on the site to avoid legal difficulties, but on Saturday, they went ahead with a satirical introduction campaign ceremony at a Bangkok hotel.

In addition, iLaw, along with six would-be candidates, including ex-prosecutor Panat Tasneeyanond, has petitioned the Administrative Court to investigate the EC regulations, which they say exceed the agency's mandate and violate the free speech principle.

They are of the view that the EC regulations discourage public participation in crucial races, which is not acceptable.

They said EC regulations Nos. 5, 7, 8, 11(2) and 11(5), which took effect on April 27, are silencing many candidates as they dare not express their opinions in public or give interviews to the media.

The Administrative Court set May 16 for the first hearing. It's unclear if the court hearing will affect the registration process. If the race is delayed, the current senate will carry on as caretaker.

At the same time, political activists said they plan to submit a note to the poll agency to drop the controversial regulations immediately to promote democratic values.

In media interviews, EC secretary-general Sawaeng Boonmee said the race has nothing to do with members of the public as they cannot vote. He must think again and stop acting as if the Senate poll is irrelevant to the public.

Although members of the public cannot vote for candidates, as remarked by the EC secretary general, they still have a right to monitor the process to keep it free of fraud. This is important because it's obvious the poll agency lacks instruments to prevent collusion among candidates.

The EC must do its utmost to ensure the elections take place as scheduled.

Otherwise, it will be held accountable for the breakdown of this important political and democratic process.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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