Lessons from Senate race
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Lessons from Senate race

The nation's complicated Senate election ended yesterday with a bunch of surprises. Several big names in politics failed to make the cut, while many unfamiliar faces look set to take the final step towards the Upper House of parliament.

Perhaps the biggest upset in the election was the defeat of former PM (and brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra) Somchai Wongsawat, whom pundits had predicted would be the next Senate speaker. He lost in the final round of voting.

No matter how imperfect or mind-bogglingly complex the process was, the Senate election highlighted a new, unusual dynamic in Thailand's political landscape. The public saw individuals from all walks of life -- ordinary workers, artists, activists, even former PMs -- competing for seats in the Upper House, which for decades had been reserved for the political elites or a select few appointed by the coup-makers of the day.

Before this year, the idea that anyone could be a senator was unthinkable. For most of its history, Thailand opted for an indirect form of representation, with citizens voting for politicians and political parties. The latest Senate election gave Thai citizens their first taste of direct democracy.

The election has given the country some valuable lessons. Chief of which is that the multi-phase voting system did not prevent political parties and interest groups from dominating the election process.

While many of the candidates who made the cut are known to be linked to parties that dominate the Lower House, a big chunk of the candidates come from the lower Northeast, particularly around Buri Ram, a bastion of the Bhumjaithai Party.

Meanwhile, most of the candidates who billed themselves as pro-democracy candidates are aligned with iLaw, a political group that supports monarchy reforms, revising the lese majeste law, and the junta-sponsored constitution-- the flagship policies of the Move Forward Party.

There were accusations of vote buying and candidates voting among themselves. Many candidates also spoke to the media about how they were offered money and/or positions by political parties if they would vote for certain candidates.

There were also reports that candidates stayed in the same hotels and held meetings to strategise before voting. While these activities do not violate election laws, it raises doubts about the fairness of the process.

Another issue that only emerged after the election ended concerns the candidates' qualifications. Many people were shocked to learn that many candidates have limited experience in their fields, raising doubts about their ability to do their jobs and keep MPs in check.

The election would have been more legitimate and successful had the EC encouraged more people to join the process. The EC's sub-par public campaign prior to the election, combined with the steep 2,500-baht registration fee, meant only 48,000 people signed up, far below the 100,000 the EC had predicted would join the race.

Lawmakers will need to revise the system to make it more inclusive, if they wish to use the highly-complex model again in the future.

Now, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. No matter who they are and where they come from, the new senators must prove that they are better than the outgoing, junta-appointed senators by supporting democratic principles and by proving they aren't simply proxies of political groups.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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