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All eyes on Senate make-up, top posts

Outcome affects 'non-elected PM' proposal, impeachment of officials

While the stances of most senators and the Senate Speaker are important factors in the fates of many players in Thai politics, the direction they will take is not clear right now.

The public will be keeping an eye on the important roles of the Senate in the possible impeachment of political officeholders and in possibly proposing a non-elected PM for royal endorsement.

After the Senate election on Sunday, many have agreed that elected senators - who represent 77 provinces nationwide - are not politically neutral, as they are officially supposed to be. The unofficial results showed that few of them are at odds with the political parties and local politicians whose strongholds they represent.

Whether or not the Election Commission (EC) is able to endorse the results of the voting for senators-elect whose elections did not face any objections, the Senate must convene on or about April 20 to vote on the impeachment against outgoing Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) indicted him over the charter-amendment case.

Before that, it will have to vote on the selection of a new NACC member to replace Jaided Pornchaiya, who reached retirement age last month.

The EC will have up to 30 days to endorse the other senators-elect. However, during that period the Senate might have to vote on whether to impeach caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the rice-pledging scheme case, and former House Speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont in the charter-amendment case, should they also be indicted by the NACC.

Key anti-government Senator Paiboon Nititawan has expressed concerns over the unofficial results. Meanwhile, former Nonthaburi senator Direk Teungfung, who is seen as having sided with the Pheu Thai-led government, said the election is the right way to select senators, adding that he thought it went well.

Appointed Senator Paiboon - who has joined in the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement, and who is also a key member of the so-called Group of 40 Senators - yesterday said that appointing a "neutral PM" and impeaching political officeholders looked more difficult now that the new group of senators-elect seemed to be dominated by candidates with connections to Pheu Thai and the government coalition.

Paiboon said it appeared that there were only about a dozen or so senators-elect that his group would be able to talk to and do business with.

Paiboon went on to say that who occupies the position of Senate Speaker would be another crucial factor that will affect the attempt to propose a non-elected PM for royal endorsement, as desired by the PDRC.

He said that unless the Senate top post is taken by Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who is now deputy Senate Speaker, the move would be difficult, as would impeachment of political officeholders.

Meanwhile, Direk said that elections are the proper democratic means for the people to select senators, even if there is a possibility - as raised by a reporter - that some candidates may have had controversial records.

The senators-elect with controversial records cited by the reporter included Chai Nat senator-elect Monthien Songpracha, who was banned from politics for five years for electoral fraud; Bangkok senator-elect Khunying Jaruvan Maintaka, who is being investigated in an alleged unusual-wealth case; and Udon Thani senator-elect Arporn Sarakham, the wife of red-shirt leader Kwanchai Praipana.

Direk said the public and the mass media would take part in examining their work in the future.

Appointed Senator Pol Lt-General Somyot Deemark said the new elected Senate still lacked diversity in terms of the professions of the senators-elect, as most were local or national politicians. However, their experience should be useful in their work, the senator said.

Somyot said the assumption that senators-elect are people from political camps was not actually right, as the law requires that a candidate cannot have held a political position for at least five years, and people's mindsets can change over that period.

Somyot said that, traditionally, once 95 per cent of the elected senators are endorsed, the Senate convenes and votes to select a new Speaker and deputies.

Surachai might just be the chairman in the first meeting, when the new top posts are voted on, he said.

Currently, only appointed senator Surachai is in the post of Deputy Senate Speaker. Speaker Nikom, who was elected during the previous election and whose term has already ended, was suspended from his caretaker role after the NACC indicted him in the case related to charter amendment.

A vote on the Senate Speaker and deputies has never before been held outside of the House's ordinary session, Surachai said, adding that some see this as an internal Senate issue, so a vote could possibly be called regardless of the status of the House session.




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