PM backs senators' picks
Critics fear legislators will support Prayut
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has defended the role of the appointed 250 senators who will join MPs in voting for a prime minister after the March 24 election, saying they can act independently at their own discretion.
However, critics did not give credence to his remarks saying that all the senators will be picked by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) headed by Gen Prayut and they will naturally throw their support behind Gen Prayut returning as prime minister after the poll.
Responding to criticism that the appointed 250 senators would serve as his support base, Gen Prayut said: "Although the senators will be appointed by me, will you look down on all 250 of them?"
"Don't they have brains? Don't they love the country? Everyone loves the nation. The love of the country and democracy shouldn't be monopolised only by political parties and politicians," he said.
Under the constitution, there are 500 elected MPs and 250 appointed senators.
Section 272 of the constitution stipulates that during the five years after the new parliament convenes, senators join MPs in voting to choose the prime minister. This is the result of the additional question people were asked when they voted in the referendum on the charter in August 2016.
A successful candidate for the post of prime minister needs the support of more than half of both houses or at least 376. In light of this, the 250 appointed senators will play a crucial role in keeping Gen Prayut in power after the poll.
Politicians have slammed the rule as unfair in the run-up to the poll, especially after Gen Prayut accepted the Palang Pracharath Party's (PPRP) PM candidacy nomination.
With the backing of the appointed 250 senators, the pro-regime party could easily gain enough parliamentary support to have a prime minister of its choice and form a government even though it and its coalition partners may not have a majority in the House of Representatives.
Gen Prayut on Friday said the NCPO was in the stage of preparing a list of 12 people whom it would appoint to a screening panel, which will in turn select 400 senator candidates to be shortlisted by the NCPO to 194. "They are from different sources and the next step is to send them invitations and wait for their confirmation."
Under the 2017 constitution, the coup-appointed senators come from two methods of selection.
Fifty of them are selected via intra-voting in professional and social groups and the NCPO will directly handpick 194 senators from a list of 400 chosen by a committee it will appoint. The six remaining seats are to be occupied by the armed forces leaders, the supreme commander, the defence permanent secretary and national police chief.
Jade Donavanik, chairman of the Faculty of Law at the College of Asian Scholars, told the Bangkok Post that the appointed 250 senators should be no different from the NCPO-installed National Legislative Assembly, which always votes in favour of matters proposed by the government.
No matter how Gen Prayut tries to defend the role of the appointed senators, it is clear to all that the senators will vote for him, Mr Jade said.
"The 250 senators are not brainless. But if they do not act for the benefit of the PPRP, then who else? If the prime minister said that the senators have brains, will the prime minister tell them not to vote for you because you may be criticised, and tell them to vote for other PM candidates, instead?" Mr Jade said.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva told the Bangkok Post that at this stage there was no knowing who the 250 senators would vote for as the next prime minister. But Gen Prayut is now a prime ministerial candidate of the PPRP and also has the power to pick senators and this could be a conflict of interest, he added.
"No matter whether [the selection] is done honestly or not, there will always be doubts. No one called the senators brainless. But the prime minister must realise that this may be a conflict of interest," Mr Abhisit said.