Senate election gets trickier by the day
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Senate election gets trickier by the day

Potential candidates in the upcoming Senate election attend a seminar on May 4 run by civic groups to ramp up public awareness about the election of the new Upper House. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
Potential candidates in the upcoming Senate election attend a seminar on May 4 run by civic groups to ramp up public awareness about the election of the new Upper House. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

The election of the Senate to replace the junta-appointed high chamber, which ended its term early this month, kicked off rather slowly.

According to the election timeline, registration began on Monday. The Election Commission (EC) said registration forms were available at district offices. Yet, there were reports that some district offices, such as Yala's Betong, were very quiet, as no would-be candidates turned up.

The EC said around 10,000 enthusiasts collected the forms. The number is, however, low, taking into consideration the campaign by political activists encouraging people to join the race in the hopes that a high number of candidates could ward off foul play, ie, fraud and collusion among the influential. Yet, we will have to see when the registration comes to a close whether the race will be more lively. The last Senate election saw 50,000 candidates.

The Senate election is based on professional groups, totalling 20, with 10 representing each group, who are to vote among themselves at the initial stage, the district level, all the way to the provincial and national level.

As mentioned in my previous article, there are grave concerns over the complicated election process and the strict regulations around the candidates' self-introductions that lack practicality. The EC initially wanted the candidates only to be introduced among themselves and not to the public. EC secretary-general Sawang Boonmee was adamant that the candidates should stick to the old introduction method, summing up their resume on two A4-sized pieces of paper, without using social media channels.

A group of activists and law experts interested in joining the race challenged the EC and its dubious regulations, taking the case to the Administrative Court and accusing the poll agency of infringing upon the freedom of expression principle, a right endorsed by the charter. The first hearing was on Thursday, and the court is expected to deliver a verdict on May 24.

The complaints forced the EC to make a compromise. It eventually allowed the candidates to use social media platforms such as TikTok, IG, and YouTube, while interviews with the media are still banned. Despite the compromise, the candidates must be aware of the risks they are taking with regard to the ambiguity of the regulations. Nitpicky rules, in addition, will make it easy for candidates to file complaints against one another, and that could delay the Senate election. That means the current 250-seat Upper House will stay on as a caretaker. Despite a caretaker Upper House being unable to take part in voting to select a PM, it can still pick commissioners for major independent agencies.

The country badly needs a new Senate, which would give a push to the charter rewrite that has been suspended as the expired military-endorsed upper chamber stood in the way.

The current 2017 charter requires one-third of the Upper House to kickstart the charter rewriting process, as stipulated by Section 256, and also to amend the referendum law that otherwise makes a new charter difficult to conceive.

Any election blunders may delay the process. The 2017 charter allows the expired Senate to maintain its role as caretaker until the new chamber enters office, which is expected to be by early July or perhaps later.

Some senators want to maintain their controversial role in endorsing the premiership. The provisional clause of the 2017 charter limited the premiership endorsement power to five years -- which has already expired.

It should be noted that election delays will adversely impact the selection of several independent agencies whose members are to complete their terms soon, namely the charter court (seven out of nine are to leave office in 2027), the Election Commission (five of seven, in 2029), and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (three by the end of this year and one in 2027). The EC is confident, however, that there will be no delay despite the speculated poll tumult, as each group is to have five on its reserve list. The EC has the power to call on the reserve batch if any elected senators are disqualified.

While the election seems sluggish at this stage, it's likely the process will start to sizzle later, especially in the final round, as influential persons and even certain political parties will not abandon the chance to manipulate the Senate and attempt to get slices of the political cake in the high chamber.

Look back at the senators who won the popular election in 2000 in accordance with the 1997 "People's Charter". From the institution eulogised as the most democratic upper house in Thai political history, the Senate was stained with high-profile scandals after several members were "bought off" by the Thai Rak Thai Party, the predecessor of Pheu Thai.

History may repeat itself in the forthcoming senate election. But in between, every element should encourage eligible candidates to participate in the race, as that is important to prevent election fraud.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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