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By Saturday the term of the junta-appointed Upper House will come to an end, and the process of starting a new chamber will begin.

The timeline should be a major milestone for democracy. But the race is already showing signs of lethargy due to the Election Commission (EC) and its tough-yet-obscure regulations governing candidates' self-introduction and use of social media.

In laying down the law, the poll agency cited the 2017 charter, which prohibits candidates from canvassing and representing parties. Its narrow interpretation of the supreme law, which results in the race being a closed process, is unpractical, if not problematic.

Without clear introduction rules, for instance, every candidate is at risk of being accused of breaching the election rules and facing penalties. At the same time, the EC excludes the public from this crucial election. Therefore, it is not preposterous to expect accusations, lawsuits and disqualifications later on.

The delay also means the Upper House chamber will remain in place in a caretaker form.

The rules for this Senate election are challenging, if not mind-boggling. The contest, according to the charter, is an indirect race, with candidates from 20 professional groups voting among themselves at three levels -- district, provincial and national -- followed by cross-voting and draws.

There will be six rounds of votes before the 200 senators are finalised. The candidates are allowed to talk among themselves but not to the public.

The EC regulations target those in the media and entertainment fields. In principle, they obstruct people in these fields from using their careers to gain an advantage over their rivals. While the idea is sound, the regulations are too vague and hard to implement.

Under such illogical regulations, the EC has created a climate of fear that is making this election -- which is so crucial to democracy -- rather unhealthy.

If that's not enough, the poll agency has failed to comply with calls for it to clarify the election rules concerning candidates' self-introductions, or give the public access to the race so they could monitor the process and keep an eye out for fraud. In fact, the controversial regulations are the EC's fierce reaction to the campaign by civic groups like iLaw.

These groups have asked the EC to make the election more accessible to the public. In the case of iLaw, it also launched a webpage, senate67, as a digital platform for those wishing to join the race.

This also enables politically conscious netizens to monitor the process, while the site explains and simplifies the overly complicated election rules as well as other important data like timelines. If the EC strictly implements these rigid regulations, the webpage risks being shut down and those involved could face penalties.

Civic groups and some potential candidates for the Senate have lodged complaints with the Administrative Court, asking for an injunction. They argue the EC has exceeded its mandate in launching such controversial rules that infringe upon freedom of expression.

The court set May 16 for the first hearing. Those involved are holding their breath given the fact the race will officially begin Monday.

Will the court ruling affect the race? In fact, there is no need for the EC to wait for the outcome. It should be cognisant of the disadvantage inherent in such a closed process that deprives the public of its right to participate -- a right that, if respected, may help prevent poll fraud.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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