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Junta loyalists pack Senate in Thailand

The senate will have a key role to play in choosing the next prime minister.


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Updated: May 15, 2019

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) took a major step towards retaining power by naming scores of people it patronises and who are loyal to it as constitutionally endorsed senators.

Of the 250 names announced yesterday for the junta-picked Senate, 104 were military or police officers –retired and in service – while other figures included former members of junta-appointed bodies who had served the post-coup regime in the past five years.

The move marks an about-turn for the junta, which had pledged to stay away from politics and had come to power promising to cleanse the country of corruption and nepotism.

In addition to people from the Armed Forces, the senator list also included family members of junta leaders as well as close aides.

The list includes General Preecha Chan-o-cha, the brother of NCPO chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha; Admiral Sisthawatchara Wongsuwan, the brother of NCPO No 2 Prawit Wongsuwan; Air Marshal Chalermchai Krea-ngam, the brother of deputy PM Wissanu Krea-gnam; and former banker Som Jatusripitak, the brother of deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak.

According to the Constitution, the Senate can vote to help determine the country’s prime minister. Also, it has a whip hand to ensure the elected government complies with the 20-year national strategy written by the junta.

When cornered by reporters yesterday that the newly-appointed Senate was no different from the so-called “spouse” parliaments of the past dominated by politicians and their family members that the current regime had vowed to fight, PM Prayut, who had handpicked the 250 senators in his capacity as the head of the NCPO, explained that the junta-appointed figures were more efficient.

“Make the comparison. Look how many legislations they made in the past five years. It’s more than 500. Before that, how many did they do? It’s unparalleled.”

Meanwhile, junta No 2 Prawit who chaired the confidential committee that pre-screened the Senate candidates before Prayut’s final selection, ignored all media inquiries about their controversial Senate picks.

He refused to explain why so many of the Senate nominees were military and police officers and snapped on the selection of a number of his close aides.

“What are you talking about?” the general said, apparently upset by the question. But when reporters started naming several officers, including his brother, Prawit dodged past the media throng, got in his car, and left Government House.

As soon as the Royal Gazette published the names of the 250 successful senator candidates, there was widespread criticism. Despite a wide realisation that the NCPO would rely on the Senate to retain power, the list was seen as reeking of nepotism.

Weng Tojirakarn, core leader of the red-shirt movement, told The Nation that the Senate was dominated by pro-coup figures.

“We cannot place our hopes in them to bring back democracy,” Weng said, referring to the regime’s promise to restore better democratic rule. “Clearly, they [the senators] are here to support the NCPO and General Prayut. This is even worse than the ‘spouse parliament’.”

The senator selection committee was confidential. However, Weng called on the powers that be to unmask them and scrutinise if the selection process had been just and constitutional.

Jade Donavanik, an adviser to the now-defunct Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) responsible for the rules governing the selection of the Senate, admitted that the Senate composition was highly questionable.

However, he said the CDC had done its best to make the Senate a good mechanism in the checks and balances system. In the permanent clauses, the Senate should be cross-elected, he explained. The current situation was the result of the transitional provisions that will last five years, he said, adding that it should be the NCPO that should answer questions not the CDC.

Meanwhile, Seri Suwanpanont, a member of the newly elected senators who also had been in previous junta-appointed assemblies, was unfazed by the controversy over his selection.

“We come with responsibility as prescribed in the Constitution and other laws,” he said. “I am not concerned about anything, including the role to vote for the PM. We are already here. People will always have opinions no matter what we do. So, we have to be determined and have the courage to make a decision and do our job.”

Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai questioned why the junta had spent as much as Bt1.3 billion only to name its associates to the Senate. The NCPO has never disclosed the names of the selection committee members as required by the charter, he said.

THE TRANSITION TO UPPER HOUSE

THE junta has spent Bt1.3 billion to handpick 250 names for the Senate, most of whom helped create the ruling National Council for Peace and Order. Now they will play the role of the junta’s guardians, by installing the new prime minister and controlling the implementation of the government’s 20-year national strategy. This handpicked Senate is a reflection of the patron-client tendencies and nepotism in the Thai political scene.

Six military /police members were named as senators based solely on their position, namely Defence Ministry’s permanent secretary-general General Natt Intrachroen, Supreme Commander General Pornpipat Benyasri, Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong, Navy chief Admiral Luechai Ruddit, Air Force chief Air Chief Marshall Chaiyapruk Didyasarin and National Police chief Pol General Chakthip Chaijinda.



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The Nation (Thailand)
About the Author: The Nation is a broadsheet, English-language daily newspaper founded in 1971 and published in Bangkok, Thailand.

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