Former Generals, Academics Emerge Winners in Thai Senate Race

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand has wrapped up a complex process of selecting its new 200-member Senate, which will be less powerful than the outgoing upper house with some former military and police officers and academics emerging as winners.

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Former army general Kriangkrai Srirak and ex-provincial governors Weerasak Wichit Saengsri and Thawatch Suraban and trade union leader Chinchote Saengsang won senate seats, according to provisional results released by the Election Commission on Thursday. The agency is due to unveil the official list of winners on July 2.

While business leaders including Bangkok-listed Srinanaporn Marketing Pcl’s senior executive Wichian Chaisathaporn and Thaiasia Goldensea Resort owner Rojana Permpool emerged successful, former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat was eliminated in the final round. Somchai is the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra, himself a former premier and someone seen as the de facto leader of the now ruling Pheu Thai Party.

The first senate race since a military coup in 2014 saw more than 48,000 candidates vying for a seat in the upper chamber of the Thai parliament. In its new form, the house would no longer have the power to elect a prime minister but will broadly retain its other roles, including vetting new laws and appointments to key posts such as the charter court, anti-graft agency and the poll panel.

The make-up of the new senate will determine if the conservative establishment loosens its grip on one of the most important political institutions in Thailand.

The new batch of senators — who will have a five-year term — represent one of the pre-determined 20 civil and professional categories, ranging from farmers to lawyers, women and ethnic minorities. They went through a so-called “self-selection” process with qualified applicants voting among themselves — for each other within their group and across the 20 groups — at different levels from local to provincial and national.

What the Thai Senate Race Means And Why It’s All Different

While the senate race banned political parties from playing any direct role, there were allegations of attempts to manipulate the results. The Election Commission has said it’s gathering facts related to illegal activities of senate candidates and reserves the right to take action against them.

The poll agency has also a reserve-list of 100 candidates — based on the votes they received — who will be eligible to become senators in the event of anyone getting disqualified.

The upper house chamber was in the spotlight for its controversial role in Thailand’s 2023 general election, when it blocked the prime ministerial candidate of the winning reformist party from assuming power. It used an article in the 2017 military-backed constitution to do so, and later helped install Srettha Thavisin from the runner-up Pheu Thai Party as prime minister.

The new Senate is expected to play a crucial role in the current government’s planned amendment of the military-backed constitution that requires support from at least a third of senators to pass. Nearly all attempts to do so after the coup have failed due to Senate votes, despite the proposals clearing the elected lower house.

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