Thai Parliament rejects bid to strip Senate of powers to pick PM

A key proposal to amend the 2017 military-backed constitution received 356 votes in support, falling short of the 364 needed. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Thailand's Parliament has rejected an opposition-backed bid 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.

A key proposal to amend the 2017 military-backed constitution received 356 votes in support, falling short of the 364 needed - the half way mark of the combined strength of the joint session of the Parliament on Wednesday.

The proposal had sought 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 move was widely expected to fail as it required the backing of more than half of the votes from the combined 750-seat National Assembly, including more than a third of Senate votes.

A majority of the 250-member Senate, picked by the military that seized power in a May 2014 coup, voted against the proposal.

Thailand's opposition and civil society had previously made five attempts 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.

The latest proposal made it to the Parliament after it garnered more than 64,000 signatures following a public campaign that started in December, well beyond the 50,000 needed.

The effort may still have helped the opposition turn the spotlight on the military establishment's grip on power.

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

The latest attempt against the Senate came 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 assess statements furnished by Mr Prayut's legal team and others involved in the drafting of the constitution. BLOOMBERG

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