Senate selection bill passes NLA with 10 ‘groups’ approved
THE last organic law – the Senate selection bill – has been passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) after almost 12 hours of debate.
The bill sailed through the NLA on Friday evening with 197 votes for, no votes against, and seven abstentions. The bill will be enforced after promulgation without further delay. Legislators made a major change to the bill by cutting the number of groups in the Senate from 20 to 10.
Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) member Chartchai Na Chiangmai argued against the move. The number 20 had been concluded from a public survey, he said and the bigger number guaranteed that there was a greater diversity among members in the Senate.
NLA member Somchai Sawangkarn, however, claimed that the higher the number of groups, the fewer the number of members and the higher the risk of block voting.
It could open the way for political groups to interfere more easily, he argued. The CDC, which drafted the bill, had deliberately designed the Senate to consist of professional guilds in order to keep political influence away from the Upper House and make it truly representative of the people.
Somchai said that unless the number of groups was reduced, it was very likely that the Senate would not be independent as hoped. Eventually, the NLA endorsed the change with 166 to 35 votes and five abstentions. The vote came despite fierce criticism of the groupings.
For instance, women, people with special needs and the elderly were put into the same group, raising the question of whether this was in itself discrimination. The NLA also agreed that members of the future Senate would be selected from two major sources.
Half would be independent candidates and the other half would represent professional associations. CDC member Udom Rathamarit cautioned against the move, saying it was beyond what the Constitution allowed. Other major changes were with the selection process: the CDC had previously declared that the Senate should be cross-selected among the groups to minimise the risk of manipulation.
But the NLA decided that representatives would be elected by members from within their group. The application fee has also been increased twice, from Bt2,500 to Bt5,000.
The NLA itself is composed of people hand-picked by the junta.
After its passage, the bill will be submitted to related agencies for review. If they disagree, a joint committee will be set up to revise the bill. If the agencies do not raise any issue, then the bill will be sent to the prime minister to seek royal endorsement.
The chosen ones
1. Public administration and security: former public servants, officials and others
2. Law and justice: former judges, public attorneys and other legal professionals
3. Education and public health: former teachers, lecturers, researchers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others
4. Agriculture: farmers, stock raisers, fishermen and others
5. Non-government employees: blue- and white-collar workers, freelancers and others
6. Environment, real estate, public utility, science, media, energy and others
7. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs)
8. Women, the elderly, people with special needs, ethnic groups
9. Arts and culture