Explainer: The appointed Senate

Explainer: The appointed Senate

How is Thailand's new 250-member Senate selected -- and what impact will the new rules have on Thailand's peace, prosperity and democracy?

The Thai parliament consists of 750 members – 500 MPs who sit for four years in the House of Representatives, and 250 senators, who have a five-year term. In this explainer, we’ll look at the remodelled Senate. 

Unlike countries such as the United States, the Senate is not directly elected by the general public. 

Of the 250 seats, a large majority -- 194 -- are handpicked by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order, the NCPO. A further six are reserved for the armed forces leaders, the supreme commander, the defence permanent secretary and the national police chief.

These 50 represent 10 professional and social groups -- including bureaucrats, teachers, judges, farmers and private companies. Some are elected by panels representing these groups, but most are independents who are allowed to choose a group to affiliate themselves with as long as they’re approved by the Election Commission. 

 

THE 10 'PROFESSIONAL AND SOCIAL GROUPS'

1. Public administration and security: former public servants, officials and others 

2. Law and justice: former judges, public attorneys and other legal professionals 

3. Education and public health: former teachers, lecturers, researchers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others 

4. Agriculture: farmers, stock raisers, fishermen and others 

5. Non-government employees: blue- and white-collar workers, freelancers and others 

6. Environment, real estate, public utility, science, media, energy and others 

7. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) 

8. Women, the elderly, people with special needs, ethnic groups 

9. Arts and culture 

10. Other

Altogether, 2,746 candidates met in Bangkok on Dec 27 and held a group round of voting, which was tainted with allegations of vote-buying. The top 200 now form a shortlist; the Election Commission conducts background checks and allows anyone to file a complaint about any of them. The NCPO then steps in directly, choosing 50 as Senators and keeping another 50 in a reserve list.

In this election, the Senate has been given considerable extra power – the 2017 constitution states that for a 5-year period that starts when the next government convenes, it’s not just the 500 elected members of the House that choose the next prime minister – the 250 non-elected Senators also join the vote – and that greatly reduces the public’s voice in choosing Thailand’s new leader, both in this election and at least one more. 

One scenario – and one that analysts believe is highly likely – is that all 250 members of the Senate might vote for the man who had a say in picking them -- General Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

If that were the case, General Prayut wouldn’t need a majority in the House of Representatives to become PM. If he had all 250 senators behind him, he’d only need another 126 of the 500 MPs in the House to get the job – which polls suggest is quite probable. We could then end up with a prime minister who has overwhelming support in the appointed Senate, but is opposed by most of the elected MPs in the House – a possible recipe for gridlock and conceivably, another coup.

Proponents of the new system believe it will provide the tradition, continuity and central leadership that Thailand needs, and prevents businessmen-turned-politicians from seducing a vulnerable electorate with populist policies and then dividing up the country’s wealth for their own enrichment while caring nothing for essential Thai values. 

Others say the system is fundamentally undemocratic and the new Senate rules have been tailor-made to prevent a win by Pheu Thai -- the latest incarnation of the party that’s won every election since 2001. They argue that the new election rules for the House and Senate, together with the increased powers of the judiciary, have stacked the deck in favour of the military establishment.

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