Thai opposition seeks to strip Senate of powers to pick next PM

Thai protesters calling for PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down amid his eight-year premiership legal dispute in Bangkok on Aug 28, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Thailand's opposition parties are making another attempt to strip the junta-appointed Senate of powers to elect the next prime minister before the national vote likely to be held early next year.

Lawmakers are set to vote late on Wednesday on a raft of proposals to amend the 2017 military-backed constitution. A key motion seeks to remove a provision that gives the Senate the power to select the prime minister together with the lower house for the first five years following post-coup elections in 2019.

The proposal is likely to fail to secure more than half of the votes from the combined 750-seat National Assembly. That is because a third of the 250-member Senate will have to approve the proposed amendment and they were picked by the military that seized power in a May 2014 coup.

Thailand's opposition and civil society have made five attempts since 2020 to erase the Senate's voting power from the constitution, which was largely viewed by experts as a means to cement the army's grip on power.

All proposals have failed to secure the votes required from the Senate.

"It's a different time, different political context, different sense of necessity," said Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, leader of the civil society campaign and former member of the Election Commission that oversaw the 2019 polls. "There should be more votes from senators this time."

The proposal, which analysts describe as a symbolic move, had more than 64,000 signatures after a public campaign started in December, well beyond the 50,000 needed to bring it before the joint houses.

"The deliberate aim at the Senate highlights how the junta still maintains power via the Senate," said Yuttaporn Issarachai, political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

The latest attempt against the Senate also comes amid Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's waning popularity and the Constitutional Court's order to suspend him until it rules on the opposition's petition challenging his eligibility to stay in power.

The court will meet on Thursday to review statements furnished by Prayut's legal team and others involved in the drafting of the constitution. BLOOMBERG

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