BANGKOK — Thailand’s newly appointed 250-member Senate, which will play a crucial role in selecting the country’s next prime minister, will include more than 100 members of the police and military who have wielded power since a 2014 coup, according to the list of appointees issued Tuesday.
Along with their civilian allies, virtually all of the senators represent conservative elements in Thai society that have dominated the administration since the coup ousted an elected government. They include 15 former members of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, as well as many members of the unelected parliament that served under his junta.
The senators, appointed by the junta, are expected to act as a bloc supporting Prayuth when a joint vote to choose the next prime minister is held in the next few weeks with the 500 members of the House of Representatives elected in March.
By voting with the pro-military parties in the lower house, Prayuth should be able to gain the majority needed to return to office. However, there is a possibility that anti-military parties could end up controlling the lower house, which could give Prayuth a hard time passing laws and getting a budget approved.
A new constitution implemented under Prayuth’s regime made the Senate a totally appointed body, one of several measures that were designed to limit the power of elected politicians and pass it into the hands of senior civil servants, the military, the judiciary and other pillars of Thailand’s traditional establishment.
The moves were made in large part to curb the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies won him enormous support and threatened the influence of traditional power holders, including the military. He was deposed by a 2006 military coup, but his following remained strong. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011, only to have her Pheu Thai party government also toppled by the army in 2014.
The sometimes violent struggle for power between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents triggered years of instability, which served as the justification for the army’s 2014 coup, They blamed corrupt politicians for the country’s problems and said they were instituting reforms to curb them.
A general election on March 24 left no single party with an absolute majority. The Pheu Thai party won 136 lower house seats, while the military-backed Palang Pracharath party, which supports Prayuth for prime minister, won 115. Both parties are seeking partners to form a lower house majority.
The selection process for senators included a junta-appointed committee that chose 400 candidates, from which the junta ultimately chose 194 members.
Another group of senators was chosen from applicants belonging to 10 different occupational groups, who then voted to nominate 200 from among their number, from which the junta ultimately selected 50 members.
The six other senatorial positions were given to the six top military and police leaders.
Story: Kaweewit Kaewjinda