Thailand Confirms New Senators in First Race After 2014 Coup

(Bloomberg) -- Thailand’s Election Commission certified the results of the first Senate contest since a coup in 2014, paving the way for new lawmakers to replace the previous military-appointed upper house of parliament following a complex selection process last month.

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The 200 winners of the Senate race must pick up certificates at the office of the Election Commission this week before formally joining parliament, Sawaeng Boonmee, secretary-general of the poll body, said in a briefing on Wednesday. The official winners list will be submitted later in the day for publication in the Royal Gazette, he said.

The Senate plays a pivotal role in Thai politics and has for the last decade served to safeguard the interest of the pro-military royalist establishment. While it no longer has a say in who becomes prime minister, the new Senate retains the power to amend the military-backed charter and make appointments to posts in the Constitutional Court, the anti-graft agency and the Election Commission.

The confirmation of the Senate lawmakers came two weeks after the contest ended, with a former army commander and ex-provincial governors ranking among the preliminary list of winners. The process was delayed as the Election Commission received more than 800 complaints over qualifications of applicants and irregularities during the three voting rounds between June 9 to 26. More than 46,000 people contested the race.

Under the new system, the public had no role in picking the senators. Qualified candidates voted among themselves across 20 pre-determined categories, ranging from farmers to lawyers, women and ethnic minorities. This was carried out at local, provincial and national levels and the top ten candidates from each group would become Senate members.

The incoming batch of senators will serve a five-year term. New members must show up in parliament by Monday, and the inaugural upper house session will be scheduled soon after, according to the Secretariat of the Senate.

The incumbent Senate last year played a significant role in Thai politics, blocking the prime ministerial candidate of the winning reformist party from taking power for his campaign to amend a royal insult law. He had earlier obtained enough support in the 500-member House of Representatives.

The new Senate will be watched for how it takes to any proposed amendments to the constitution, which requires support from at least a third of the upper house. Nearly all attempts to change the charter in recent years have failed due to insufficient Senate votes, despite the proposals clearing the lower house of parliament.

(Updates with details and context throughout.)

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