11 July 2024

Thailand’s Senate race kicked off under a storm of controversy on Sunday (June 9), beset by lawsuits, allegations, and conspiracy theories.

Sunday’s nationwide district-level vote will be followed by five more rounds in what is described as the “most complicated election in the world”.

Over 46,000 candidates will vote in two rounds at the district, provincial, and national levels to select 200 new senators.

The new senators will replace members of the junta-appointed Senate, who are currently in caretaker roles after their five-year term expired on May 10.

On Wednesday, just days before voting started, the Constitutional Court accepted a petition filed by a group of senatorial candidates alleging that four clauses in the organic law governing the poll breach the Constitution.

The petition stems from a May 24 ruling by the Central Administrative Court that revoked three regulations on candidate introductions: the limit of two A4 pages, the method of electronic introduction, and the ban on artists or media professionals from using their talents to introduce themselves.

However, the Election Commission (EC) decided unanimously last Friday to go ahead with Sunday’s vote, arguing that the organic law had been vetted by relevant state agencies before its enactment in 2018. The EC added that it is legally bound to proceed with the senatorial vote.

A group of 47 senatorial candidates also petitioned the EC chairman to go ahead with Sunday’s vote, warning that postponement could lead to affected candidates taking legal action against the agency.

First for Thailand

This is the first time in Thailand that all Senate members will come from a vote among candidates.

In 2019, the 250-member Senate was made of 194 members handpicked by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and 50 representatives drawn from a vote among different occupations.

The remaining six appointees were chiefs from the armed forces and the police.

Results due July 2

Of the 48,226 people who applied for this year’s Senate race, 46,206 qualified to join the first round on Sunday. A total of 2,020 applicants failed to meet the qualification criteria.

Sunday’s district-level vote will be followed a week later by the provincial-level vote on June 16. The national-level vote will be held on June 26, with the final results due to be announced on July 2.

Candidates will vote over the six rounds to select 10 senators from 20 eligible fields. These include law and justice, education, public health, agriculture, science and technology, mass communication, employees/workers, business owners, tourism professionals, industrialists, artists/athletes, independent professionals, women, and elderly, disabled or ethnic groups.

Fears of manipulation

Critics including outgoing senators have warned of attempts to fix the vote, as well as alleging manipulation by political parties, pressure groups or large businesses. They urged the EC to correct “flaws” or loopholes in the senatorial voting law and the election agency’s related regulations.

Caretaker Senator Somchai Swangkarn alleges a conspiracy to manipulate the result is being hatched, claiming that up to 149 candidates had been earmarked as winners at the district and provincial levels before voting even began.

He said the “shortlisted candidates” were just the “tip of the iceberg” and asked the EC to take legal action against those involved, without naming names.

Somchai also called on the EC to re-examine the backgrounds of all candidates to ensure they are qualified for the vote.

In response, EC secretary-general Sawaeng Boonmee said his agency was closely monitoring for signs of wrongdoing and would take legal action if evidence was found against any candidates. “We must ensure fairness for all. We want this Senate vote to be honest and fair,” he said.

The Senate poll has also been hit by conspiracy claims.

Wanchai Sornsiri, another caretaker senator, alleges that an unnamed political movement is plotting to derail the vote in order to gain power.

The same movement is scheming to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and topple the government while also getting the opposition Move Forward Party dissolved by court order, Wanchai said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk