New Thai Senators: A New Power Base, Not Red or Orange, But Blue

The senatorial election on June 26, which was complex and time-consuming, lasted overnight until the morning of June 27, 2024.

BANGKOK — Looking at the list of 200 winners from the new Thailand’s indirect senatorial elections this week, we see mostly little-known former appointed governors, army generals, and ex-senior government officials.

On the international stage, apart from former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit, hardly anyone is recognizable.

The selection of 200 national-level senators, which began at 20:00 on June 26 at Impact Forum, Building 4, Muang Thong Thani, concluded with the vote count for the final group by the Election Commission finishing at 04:52 on June 27.

Former National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit

Many candidates were exhausted and went home during the complex and time-consuming multi-stage selection process, in which many well-known figures were surprisingly eliminated. This includes Somchai Wongsawat, former Prime Minister and brother-in-law of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was expected to potentially become the Senate President.


The Blue-line senators

Many observers have clearly noted that more than half of the elected senators are linked to the Bhumjaithai Party. Many come from Buriram province, and several have close ties to the ‘Chidchob’ family, founders of the Bhumjaithai Party, a coalition government party that uses blue as its party color.

Hence, there’s a saying that this batch of senators is the ‘blue-line senators’.

Bhumjai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnveerakul on Friday denied his party has manipulated the indirect sectoral senatorial elections, despite pundits classifying at least around half of the new 200 senators-elect as being linked to the party. Anutin said he knows no more than 20-30 of them.

The senatorial election on June 26, which was complex and time-consuming, lasted overnight until the morning of June 27.

When asked about Lt. Gen. Kriangkrai Srirak, former 4th Army Area Commander, who is expected to become the Senate President and was an advisor to the Interior Minister (a position Anutin holds), he said that Lt. Gen. Kriangkrai resigned to apply for the Senate position himself, adding that ‘a friend is a friend, but he can’t interfere with anything.’

Result of distrusting the people

Move Forward Party leader Chaithawat Tulathon gave the newly elected senate a thumbs down on Thursday and said the majority were connected to politicians. He added that this leads to the question of whether having a senate in the future is necessary.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters the much-criticized convoluted indirect sectoral elections of the new senate demonstrates how the military junta distrusts the people.

Asked if his influence is waning as former premier Somchai Wongsawat failed to get elected as a senator, Thaksin said he’s just a 75-year-old man with no special powers.

thaksin senator
Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

‘This election teaches us that every coup stems from distrust in the people. When people elect a government and it’s not trusted, a coup occurs. After a coup, rules are created where the central authority tries to control what people do according to their wishes,’ Thaksin said.

He added that the rules for this senatorial election were similarly set after the coup, and the rule-makers thought their rules were the best and smartest, but the end result is distrust in the people.

‘It’s not a good thing. We must return to trusting the people. The foundation of democratic governance must trust the people. Don’t look down on the people, they can think for themselves, and the decisions of the majority will be the most correct.’

Bhumjaithai Party Branch 2

Surachart Bamrungsuk, a political science academic from Chulalongkorn University, offered a similar view, saying that the design of the senatorial election rules is a direct result of the coup makers’ design, which seems to be a senatorial election that will likely face the most ‘allegations’ and negative criticism in another way.

These rules were designed to create inherent ‘confusion,’ with the Election Commission, who holds these rules, having to make decisions, and confusion about individuals’ professions, as seen in the news. For example, whether a village-level public address announcer would be considered a mass media professional, or what qualifies a person to run in the science and technology professional category.

The senatorial election on June 26, which was complex and time-consuming, lasted overnight until the morning of June 27.

He pointed out that in the election results, senators from the ‘political line’ such as from the ‘Pheu Thai Party’ and ‘Move Forward Party’ didn’t win, but the ‘Bhumjaithai Party’ won unexpectedly. In other words, parties opposing the coup makers didn’t win, but a ‘new power base’ in the Senate, or ‘Bhumjaithai Party Branch 2,’ is being born in the Senate.

‘Thai politics from now on is therefore very interesting and has a significant impact on the Srettha government and the Pheu Thai Party,’ Prof. Surachart pointed out.

Election Commission secretary-general Sawaeng Boonmee said on Thursday the formal announcement of the 200 newly elected senators will be made on July 3.

There have been over six hundred complaints related to election irregularities so far. Sawaeng advised that complaints should be made within three days of the election.