New Senate election casts shadow on political prospect in Thailand
Thailand's new Senate election may deepen the country's political stalemate due to its apparent failure to produce a non-partisan upper House required to perform the duty of checks and balances on the government.
The emergence of a Senate, although not officially endorsed yet, was seen largely tied to political parties which analysts warned would paralyze its checks and balances mechanism and impair the appointment of independent agencies.
Unofficial poll results showed that 106 Senate winners are relatives or allies of the ruling Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party headed by caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and 38 others to the Democrats and Chart Thai parties.
The outcome also reflected the national divide over Thaksin with North and Northeast favored the TRT-related candidates and the South as well as Bangkok backed candidates with ties to opposition Democrat Party.
Thaksin earlier this month claimed victory in the April 2 snap election, that he called three years ahead of schedule to quell weekly street protests sparked by his family's 1.9-billion-dollar tax-free stock sale.
Although TRT attained most of seats in the lower House, a large number of abstention votes have prompted the caretaker prime minister to bow out to defuse unceased political tension. Thaksin handed over his power to Chitchai Wannasathit but remains as prime minister until a new premier is appointed.
Boycotted by the opposition, who accused the premier of abuse of power and corruption, the snap polls failed to fill all 500 seats in the lower house and forced by-elections in 39 constituencies on Sunday.
The bitter polarization first made evident by the general election again surfaced in the Senate polling, which some politicians say was a waste of an enormous sum of money and worse than the previous Senate in terms of nominees connected to the ruling party.
Under the reformist 1997 Constitution, Wednesday's election is only the second time that Thais have voted for Senators. Previously members of the Upper House had been appointed by the government.
The Senate is empowered to examine all draft laws and select and impeach members of independent agencies that scrutinize the government's work. Senators are limited to a single, six-year term.
The Election Commission (EC) said 27.5 million of the 44 million eligible voters cast their ballots to choose from 1,463 candidates vying for the 200-seat Senate on Wednesday. The turnout fell short of the 70 percent target it has set.
The elections were disrupted by violence in the country's deep South where three people were killed and 21 others injured in a string of ambushes blamed on separatists. Most of the victims were policemen and poll workers.
The apparent political affiliation of many candidates will overshadow the upper chamber, supposed to be an independent force to keep the administrative branch in check, analysts say.
Chirmsak Pinthong, the acting Senator, said the election result indicates the public would face policy-oriented corruption and the country will be swallowed up due to the body's loss of supervision power.
The opposition groups have vowed to resist Thaksin's political dominance by maneuvering continued fight against him.
In an act of disappointment, Chart Thai Party leader Banharn Silapa-archa on Thursday suggested that the Senate revert to being an appointed body to ensure balance, while the Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva called on incoming senators to join efforts in restoring checks and balances via new round of political reforms.
Tanong Khanthong, a column writer for one of the country's leading newspapers said the Parliament is obviously completed under Thai Rak Thai control without any countervailing influence from the opposition. It enables Thaksin to continue to exert influence over the key policies and appointment by pulling the string tied to his nominees.
However, Banjerd of Tammasat University said that the aspiration to impartial senators is unattainable as it runs against the nature of politics. Many candidates had won because of the partisan politics and they would intervene to protect their own interests.
Thailand's fate, therefore, remains at stake over the next several weeks dependent on whether the Parliament could convene, paving the way for the appointment of a new prime minister or whether the snap election would be nullified, leading to the formation of a royally-bestowed new interim government. Until then, the political reform could be embarked.
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