New Thai Senate filled with junta supporters

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has approved 250 senators hand-picked by the ruling military regime.
Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn has approved 250 senators hand-picked by the ruling military regime.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK -With its new parliament due to open on May 22, Thailand on Tuesday (May 14) unveiled a list of appointed senators packed with military and police officers, as well as former legislators handpicked by the ruling junta.

The line-up, which includes former junta ministers like Chatchai Sarikulya and Prajin Juntong, is expected to ease the way for former coup leader and prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to extend his five-year term in power.

This is because new constitutional rules dictate the 250-seat Upper House will vote together with the 500-seat Lower House to decide on a prime minister.

Of the 250 Upper House members, 105 of them are military and police officers. Only 26 are women.

Notable names include Mr Prayut’s brother, Preecha Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan’s brother, Sitthawat Wongsuwan, and and Air Vice Marshall Chalermchai Krea-ngam – who is brother of current deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

Newly named senators have wasted no time pledging their support to Mr Prayut, a retired army chief.

Mr Jate Sirathranont, a former junta-appointed legislator, told The Straits Times: “We have reformed this country for the past five years, but mostly in the legal aspect. Now we need to take further steps.

“We need someone who has worked on this from the very start. General Prayut has done this and he has proved himself very determined. I will support him and am sure he will make a great contribution.”

 

Another new senator, Ms Daonoi Suttiniphapunt, the former managing director of state enterprise Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, said she would vote for Mr Prayut, warning that Thailand’s deep-seated political conflict has not been resolved.

“Now, Thailand still needs the leadership of a soldier,” she told The Straits Times. “Maybe in about five years, we will be in the clear.”

The junta-aligned Senate will form a key buttress for Mr Prayut after the March 24 Lower House elections produced no decisive winner and threw political parties into a coalition building frenzy.

Palang Pracharath Party, which is led by four former ministers in Mr Prayut’s Cabinet and has nominated him to be prime minster, won 115 seats, just 11 short of the technical majority in the combined parliament needed to put him in power if the entire Senate got behind him.

On Monday, 11 small parties, each with one seat in the new Lower House, pledged to team up with Palang Pracharath. Still, that coalition would remain a minority in the 500-seat House of Representatives.

Pheu Thai Party, which won the last general election by a landslide but was ousted by Mr Prayut’s coup in 2014, took 136 seats in this year’s election and has mustered a seven-party coalition that has 245 seats in the Lower House. One of its key partners is the Future Forward Party, a young, progressive outfit that won wide support from first-time voters but is now coming under legal pressure by the junta.

The swing factor for either rival camp would be the decisions made by the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties, which bagged 52 and 51 seats respectively in the poll.

Both have yet to announce their decision. The Democrats are expected to declare their stance only after they select a new leader on Wednesday (May 15). Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resigned from the post after the party’s crushing performance in the election.

Bhumjaithai has indicated it will make a call next week.