Election Commission must be proactive
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Election Commission must be proactive

The Senate election process has kicked off with little fanfare. As of Monday, a little over 36,000 people had registered for the race, raising questions about the Election Commission's (EC) chances of achieving its target of getting at least 100,000 people to take part in the process.

In this election, the public can't directly vote for a candidate, as only those who have applied to take part in the race have the right to vote.

These individuals will be asked to vote for a candidate within their professional groups before voting for individuals in other categories. The rationale for choosing this method is to ensure the legitimacy of the outcome -- the more participants take part in the election, the more neutral the result.

However, there are still fears that political parties and various interest groups will send their representatives to dominate the Upper House.

On Monday, former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, brother-in-law of paroled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, applied to be a senator candidate.

Given the lack of interest from the general public, established parties and political groups looked set to dominate the process by sending in their proxies to run in the race.

Thailand's Senate has rarely, if ever, been politically neutral. To date, senators have been chosen using one of two selection methods. They were either appointed by the government (or coup-makers) of the day or elected through different voting methods.

Regardless of how the senators are chosen, the outcomes of past selection processes have been discouraging, to say the least. The latest batch of senators, who were appointed by the junta in 2014, was among the worst performing.

But the first batch of senators who were elected through popular voting was not any better, as close relatives and friends of politicians ended up dominating the Senate.

The face and performance of the Upper Chamber remain to be seen, yet one does not need to wait for the outcome to be known to see that the EC needs to be reformed.

The body needs to act as an active promoter of democracy instead of a back office tasked with handling administrative tasks or enforcing election rules.

In the current Senate selection process, the body has failed to educate the public on the importance of the Upper House and explain why the senator election is organised differently from other votes.

Sure, the EC has set high goals, vowing to do its best to ensure the election is transparent and neutral. However, it did not create a pathway to achieve such goals.

The low participation rate shows EC needs to communicate better. Not many eligible Thais realise that they can just pick up application documents without having to register and pay the 2,500-baht fee.

The EC also allowed individuals to collect such documents at 900 district offices nationwide in an effort to make it harder for political groups to rig the vote. However, the EC failed to inform the public of this decision and other steps it has taken to improve the process.

Media agencies which cover the EC have complained of the agency's poor public relations capacity. When faced with criticisms, EC executives simply react by saying, "We are following the law," or "We did not write the rules."

EC needs to be a more proactive agent of democracy. It can start by better educating people about the 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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