BANGKOK — Deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan on Tuesday said he will lead a committee that will appoint all members of the upper house.
Prawit maintained the selection process will be fair and impartial, despite widespread criticism from political parties that the junta-appointed senators will interfere with the elected parliament. Under the new charter – drafted by the junta’s rubber-stamp parliament – 244 of the 250 senators will be chosen by the regime, while the rest will be selected by commanders of the armed forces.
“The committee will be headed by me,” Gen. Prawit said. “As for who will make up the committee, you’ll know soon. But it will consist of civilians, academics and ordinary people. We won’t bring in the military.”
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He declined to comment when a reporter asked him whether senators will simply end up voting for junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the next prime minister – a common complaint among junta critics.
Prawit’s committee is expected to sift through hundreds of applications from senate hopefuls. All senators must be confirmed by April 27.
The next premier will be chosen through a simple majority of 500 elected MPs and 250 appointed senators. Since Prayuth is expected to have the support of the entire upper house, the junta leader will only need 126 house representatives to secure the top post for another term.
The junta chairman himself insisted the senators will cast votes based on their consciences.
“Don’t they have their own brains?” Gen. Prayuth shot back at reporters last week when asked about the issue.
But a junta supporter and former lawmaker seemed to confirm suspicions in a leaked video in which he said the 250 senators were a mechanism solely for securing Prayuth’s hold on power.
“The [junta] already has 250 people that will vote for them as prime minister,” Wanchai Sornsiri told junta supporters at a dinner in a video that surfaced in December. He also took credit for coming up with the idea to the applause of junta supporters in the audience.
Prayuth is running as a premier candidate for Phalang Pracharat, a party stacked with junta officials. Party executive Kobsak Pootrakool refused to give a clear answer when confronted by a host during a TV debate.
“If the government only has 126 MPs, they won’t be able even to just propose a policy,” Kobsak said.
“No, I didn’t ask about that. I asked if what they say is true, that Phalang Pracharat already has 250 votes,” Channel 9 debate host Weera Teeraphat said, pressing the question.
“I don’t think that’s an important issue,” Kobsak said.