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The kingdom’s senatorial selection is a reminder that although Thailand is no longer under a dictatorship, the dictator’s legacy continues to rule.

Thailand’s Senate selection raises concerns about fairness and democratic representation. : Nawit science (Wikimedia Commons) CC BY-SA 4.0 Thailand’s Senate selection raises concerns about fairness and democratic representation. : Nawit science (Wikimedia Commons) CC BY-SA 4.0

The kingdom’s senatorial selection is a reminder that although Thailand is no longer under a dictatorship, the dictator’s legacy continues to rule.

Thailand’s senatorial selection, a unique process distinct from traditional elections, has concluded with significant political implications.

Unlike other typical elections, the public does not cast votes. Instead, candidates, who are supposed to be independent of political parties, select each other in a three-round process.

However, as the process unfolded, it quickly became clear which candidate was affiliated with a political party.

For example, General Kriangkrai Srirak is a close friend of the conservative Bhumjaithai Party’s leader, Anutin Charnvirakul. He was appointed chairman of the advisory committee of the Ministry of Interior, of which Anutin is the minister. General Kraingkrai won his senatorial seat and is a likely candidate for President of the Senate.

Candidates affiliated with the Bhumjaithai Party secured 123 out of 200 senator seats. Candidates affiliated with the populist Pheu Thai Party fell far short of 100. Candidates affiliated with the reformist Move Forward Party secured fewer than 30 seats, and independent candidates won the remaining seats.

The senator selection process is convoluted and undemocratic, a legacy of the 2014 military coup.

This year’s official final results have been postponed indefinitely while the Electoral Commission (EC) investigates complaints of fraud. It’s unclear when the results will be known.

How does it work

The selection process was designed to prevent vote buying and maintain the Senate’s independence from political parties.

It’s been a complete failure.

After paying a Thai Baht 2,500 (US$68) fee, candidates undergo a district, provincial, and national selection process.

Thousands competed across the kingdom, forming blocs and negotiating for votes. There are allegations of vote-buying practices, selling votes from ten-thousands to hundred-thousands of baht at the district level and provincial level respectively to millions of baht at the national level.

Two hundred senators (the previous Senate had 250 seats) were selected, with 100 in reserve in case the EC dismissed anyone due to insufficient documents or other irregularities.

On July 1, when the official results were expected to be announced the following day, a former senatorial candidate filed a petition asking the court to delay announcing the results until the EC had reviewed the candidates’ qualifications.

Senators were selected based on expertise in 20 areas, such as justice, education, news media and healthcare, not political affiliation. However, petitioners argued that winners included an event organiser who enrolled in the news media category and winners they deemed “unqualified,” such as a chauffeur, a street vendor, a seamstress, and those with a fourth-grade elementary school education.

Colour-coded selection

The Thai media categorised the senatorial candidates into four groups:

  • Blue: Allegedly affiliated with the Bhumjaithai Party, a government coalition partner.
  • Red: Allegedly affiliated with the Pheu Thai Party, the government coalition leader.
  • Orange: Allegedly affiliated with the Move Forward Party, the opposition leader.
  • Independent: Candidates not aligned with any political party.


Why the Senate is important

The selection result means the conservatives control the Senate, the body that appoints and checks and balances three powerful institutions: the Constitutional Court, which has the power to ban political parties; the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which can bring cases against political parties; and the EC, which oversees elections.

It is worth noting that banning political parties and/or politicians is a common practice in Thailand, namely the Thai Rak Thai Party, the People’s Power Party and the Future Forward Party. In addition, the Senate is involved in rewriting the Constitution.

The power dynamic of Thailand’s government is as follows: Pheu Thai’s coalition, including Bhumjaithai, controls the Parliament. Blue, allegedly affiliated with Bhumjaithai, controls the Senate. The Move Forward Party is the opposition in Parliament, and Orange is a small minority in the Senate.

Preventing Move Forward from power is the heart of Thailand’s political struggle.

With Pheu Thai controlling Parliament, Move Forward’s controversial policies, such as amending Article 112, Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste law, ending military conscription, dismantling economic oligopoly, or establishing the welfare state, would not see the light of day.

Blue controlling the Senate means the conservatives will retain the power to appoint Constitutional Court judges and the heads of the NACC and the EC. As per the Constitution rewriting, Move Forward wants the Constitution drafting committee to come from a national election; the conservatives do not. Move Forward also wants Sections 1 and 2 regarding the monarchy’s power revised; the conservatives do not. The Blue Senate will ensure the conservative agenda.

Parliament and the Senate can directly affect changes in Thailand’s politics. However, the conservatives controlling both houses mean changes are not coming anytime soon, which is the legacy of the 2014 military coup.

How we got here

The 2017 Constitution designed the senatorial selection system. It was written under the auspices of General Prayut Chan-o-Cha’s junta government, which took power in the 2014 military coup.

The purpose was to reserve senatorial power for the conservatives. For example, originally, the 250 senators had the power to elect the prime minister, along with the 500 nationally elected members of Parliament.

In the 2019 national election, this system facilitated General Prayut’s return to the premiership, as the Senate supported no other parties, and no party could secure more than 375 votes from the MPs.

A similar scenario occurred in the 2023 national election when the Move Forward Party’s leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, could not become prime minister due to insufficient parliamentary support. The Pheu Thai Party, with the Senate’s backing, formed a government with conservative parties, including Bhumjaithai.

Although the power to elect the prime minister was granted for five years and will not apply in the next election, the Senate retains significant influence and is capable of destabilising any political party.

While Thailand is no longer under a junta government and General Prayut is no longer actively involved in politics, the legacy of the 2014 military coup and the 2017 constitution continues to dominate the kingdom’s politics, affecting both Parliament and the Senate.

Voranai Vanijaka is a journalist and a Political Communications and Global Media Industries lecturer at Thammasat University. Between 2008 and 2014, he wrote the Sunday Commentary for the Bangkok Post, critically analysing Thai politics, society, human rights, and democracy. He won the 2010 M.R. Ayumongkol Sonakul Award for his column.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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