Senate election off to wobbly start
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Senate election off to wobbly start

Expectations fall short of reality in Senate race envisioned by NCPO

The Senate race kicks off on Sunday in 928 districts nationwide amid concerns the new election system may not deliver the Upper House intended by charter drafters.


According to the 2017 constitution, the new Senate to succeed the junta-appointed chamber will comprise 200 members selected from 20 professional groups, with 10 seats available for each group.

The election, organised by the Election Commission (EC), is a three-phase process in which candidates will choose among themselves candidates both from the same group and across professional groups at the district, provincial and national levels.

At the district level, there will be an intra-group election in which five candidates with the highest number of votes in each group will proceed to an inter-group election. In the inter-group poll, three candidates with the highest number of votes will be shortlisted per group, or 60 across 20 groups.

The shortlisted candidates enter the provincial-level election where a similar process repeats. The successful candidates then compete in the final stage of the contest in which the top 10 candidates from each of the 20 groups are selected as senators.

The charter drafters envisioned the new Senate as a chamber of impartial experts in their respective fields, with the complex method of intra-group and inter-group voting introduced to prevent attempts to manipulate the process.

For the new system to work, it is estimated that at least 100,000 applicants must seek election and each of the 20 groups must have a large number of candidates to compete with each other. However, the Senate race has attracted 48,117 candidates.


The low applicant turnout has apparently exposed the new system's flaw, with charter drafters and academics anticipating complications during the election process.

Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a former senator and charter writer, said although the number of candidates is lower than expected, it is not as worrying as the absence of candidates in some professional groups or some districts.

Based on media reports, in some districts, only one professional group is taking part in the election, instead of 20 professional groups.

This would mean that during the cross-group voting, where candidates from different groups vote for each other, this single group would not get any votes and thus cannot qualify for the provincial-level contest.

"What will the poll agency do about this? Will these candidates be disqualified?" he asked.

Mr Kamnoon said when there are not as many applicants as there should be, it is difficult to predict if the new Senate will get members to fulfil their duties as intended by the charter drafters.

He said the new Senate is designed to be different from previous ones which were comprised mostly of legal specialists to scrutinise legislation.

But this Senate election, he said, would generate only 10 senators from the legal and justice administration field.


However, Mr Kamnoon said this should not be considered as a shortcoming of the new Senate in executing their legislative duties.

The Senate's secretariat can provide necessary assistance to the senators who make up for this with their expertise, he added.

He said it is the first time the new system is implemented, so problems are anticipated. Those who are not happy with the system may initiate a move to amend the charter and the Senate election law, he added.

Kamnoon: New Senate to be different

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University in Chon Buri province, said the low applicant turnout has posed a challenge to this new, complicated system.

Mr Olarn said it remains to be seen what measures the Election Commission will adopt to address complications arising from the low number of candidates.

"If the district level election is flawed, the provincial and national stages are destined to be too. Today's election is the most important.

"If these candidates are dropped from the race as a result of low turnout, it will be unfair to them and it can undermine the purpose of this system, which seeks for the Senate to represent people in 20 fields," he said.

Olarn: Low turnout complicates poll

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, said the complications related to the low turnout are not enough to justify postponing or cancelling the election.

However, the poll agency must ensure election officials nationwide adhere to the same set of rules when dealing with complications to avoid further legal disputes, he said.

Mr Stithorn said he is more concerned about attempts to manipulate the election result, which will be easier when the pool of candidates is not large enough. This could undermine the entire system.

The analyst's concern echoes those of caretaker Senator Somchai Swangkarn, who last week raised suspicions that collusion could be at play in the Senate election.

He claimed that up to 149 senatorial candidates were earmarked as winners at the district and provincial levels and many more candidates could be part of a campaign to manipulate the election.

Stithorn: Cannot justify cancelling election


Phichai Ratnatilaka Na Bhuket, a lecturer from the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), said the district-level election is the most crucial part of the race and the EC must screen out candidates who are hired to participate.

He said it is possible parties may try to interfere at the national level election although it may not be worth the attempt because the new Senate's role is limited and unlikely to serve their interest.

The new Upper House has the same power and responsibilities as its predecessor, except for the right to co-select a prime minister. It will screen the nominations for public independent organisations, review legislation and examine the government.

Mr Phichai said the new Senate's stance on charter rewrite is the most interesting to watch because senators are required to take part in the charter amendment process.

As for other tasks, the previous senates, whether they were elected or appointed, tended to support those in power. The new chamber is unlikely to be any different, he said.

Phichai: Parties may try to interfere

Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Chaithawat Tulathon expressed concerns about the possibility the result of the Senate election would be delayed or even invalidated.

The Senate election law does not specify the deadline for the Election Commission to endorse or announce the result, so the process could be stalled if there are a large number of complaints.

Moreover, the Constitutional Court is also poised to rule if the Senate election law runs counter to the charter.

Mr Chaithawat criticised the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the charter drafters for the legal controversy surrounding the Senate election law.

Chaithawat: Results could be invalidated

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