April 04, 2014 00:00 By Tanatpong Kongsai
Historically low turnout may make Upper House a 'paper tiger'
Last Sunday’s election results – which show a historic-low voter turnout, a high percentage of “no votes”, and winners garnering low numbers of votes – could lead voters to view the Upper House as a paper tiger without the ability to impeach political officeholders, according to experts.
The Senate election had a 42.7-per-cent voter turnout, with 11.9 per cent casting a “no vote” and 5.2 per cent of cards being invalid.
Winners across the country won with less than 31 per cent of total votes.
In Nonthaburi, a candidate won with 6.3 per cent of votes, while the winners in Phuket and Pathum Thani collected 6.5 per cent and 8.1 per cent of the votes respectively.
Thammasat University lecturer Attasit Pankaew said at a seminar titled “The House of Pre Olympic” that the 2007 constitutional effort to make the Upper House free from political influence had failed miserably.
Although the charter bans parents, spouses and children of MPs from contesting a Senate election, 23.3 per cent of elected senators, or 18, have a background in politics and strong political connections.
Up to 50 per cent of the current senators-elect have links to provincial political networks.
Although the Upper House can no longer be dubbed the “spouses house”, it continues to be a magnet for political nominees from both major political camps, which exercise power in political battles through impeachment and the appointments of political office-holders.
“So the Upper House should be dubbed the ‘House of Pre-Olympic’, since the ideology of making the Upper House free of political influence has failed, coupled with the failure of the Senate in carrying out its checks-and-balance role, which has led to a crisis of public faith,” Attasit said.
Public urged to keep watch
The newly elected senators will join appointed senators in voting whether to impeach Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on charges of malfeasance over the rice-pledging scheme.
As the country is without a sitting Lower House, Attasit said the public must keep a watch and not let some senators decide the fate of the country.
“Their roles from now on will dictate whether the country needs to have a Senate at all,” he said.
Appointed Senator Somchai Sawengkarn said the fact that senators were required to cast a secret vote on impeachment cases led to the failure of impeachment proceedings.
“Casting secret votes can lead to vote rigging,” he said.
He suggested that the existence of the Senate be reviewed, if the Senate could not carry out its duty as designed by the charter, such as its appointing and impeaching duties.
He said the country needed to reform the whole political system involving independent agencies, MPs and senators.
Former Ratchaburi senator Kecha Saksomboon said at a seminar titled “Peeling the Upper House” that the country still needed the Senate to carry out the role of screening legislation.
“For instance, if we had not had a Senate, the Amnesty Bill would have passed,” he said.
He proposed that the required threshold in impeachment votes be changed from three-fifths of senators to half to make it easier to impeach political office-holders.
“If this was the case, the Upper House will be feared by political officeholders,” he said.