ONLY SOME 7,200 people have applied to become senators, far lower than the Election Commission (EC)’s previous prediction of 90,000 to 100,000 applicants from all over the country.
Observers see the low number of applicants as disappointing when compared to the budget of Bt1.3 billion set aside for acquiring 50 senators from voting among fellow-applicants.
The Senate, under the current Constitution, will have 250 members with a five-year term. According to the charter’s transitional clauses, all members of the first Senate will be appointed by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The charter also empowers senators to vote along with MPs to select the prime minister after the election – if the Lower House is unable to reach an accord on the premier nominee.
Of the 250 senators, 50 are to be voted in by fellow-applicants, 194 nominated by a selection committee, and six ex-officio members – the commanders-in-chief of the Armed Forces, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the Defence Ministry permanent secretary and the National Police chief.
A former constitution drafter, Chartchai Na Chiangmai, said yesterday that he thought the low number of applications was due to a lack of motivation for aspiring senators.
He said many of them had opted not to apply because finally it would be the NCPO that would be selecting 50 out of the 200 shortlisted candidates voted in by fellow-applicants from 10 occupational groups.
“They see no motivation for them to apply. They are sceptical [and see ]that in the end the NCPO may not appoint them,” Chartchai said.
Another reason, he said, was the EC’s failure to launch a campaign to woo the public. A hundred of the shortlisted candidates come from individual applicants and the other 100 from applicants nominated by eligible organisations.
Sceptical observers expect the junta-appointed senators to side with a pro-junta political party when selecting a new prime minister after the next election. The pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party earlier said that Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha would be its first choice for PM candidate.
A total of 7,210 people applied to be appointed as senators when applications opened from November 26-30, according to EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma.
He said yesterday that 6,705 aspirants had submitted their applications individually, while 505 others were nominated as senator applicants by eligible organisations.
Of the applicants, 5,315 are men and 1,895 women.
Ubon Ratchathani province saw the highest number of applicants with 431, followed by Khon Kaen (377), Sakon Nakhon (296), Roi Et (267) and Chiang Mai (265).
Four provinces had fewer than 20 applicants: Chumphon the least, with only 16, followed by Phang Nga, 17, and Sing Buri and Ranong, with 18 each.
EC deputy secretary-general Nath Laoseesawakool admitted yesterday that the number of applications was much lower than expected.
“The number of applications did not meet our target,” he said.
Nath had earlier told BBC Thai that he expected the upcoming voting among senator applicants to be “the quietest in the world”, due to many legal restrictions.
He suggested that people in power did not want much publicity for the voting for senators.
“They just want a small group of people to vote among themselves. Then the NCPO will quietly pick 50 [from the shortlist],” Nath said.
The law prohibits disclosure of the identities and number of senator applicants before closure of the application process. Also, the applicants are prohibited from campaigning publicly. They can only submit to the EC their personal history, experiences and life achievements on one A4 sheet, copies of which will be sent to fellow-applicants in their occupational groups for consideration.