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Thailand is scheduled to hold its first ever Senate election under the current constitution next month to replace the outgoing 250 Senators appointed by the military junta. Nevertheless, this unprecedented election process is viewed as the most complicated yet.

When the current military-backed Senate’s term ends in May 2024, the 200 new Senators will be elected through a new and complex process. According to the cabinet, the application process is set for 13 May while the election will be held in 3 rounds on 9,16, and 29 June and the results are expected on 2 July 2024. During this time, the current Senate will remain in power until the new Senators are elected.

The outgoing Senate has played a crucial role in determining the outcome of the past 2 general elections as it was empowered to vote for the PM, thanks to the 2017 constitution drawn up by the then-ruling military. In 2019 this enabled Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue in office with 249 votes from the Senate. In the latest election, the same Senate voted to block the election as PM of  Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the winning Move Forward Party. Unlike the current Senate, the new one will not be allowed to vote for a PM. 

Even though the new Senate will not vote for the PM, it still retains substantial power on legislative matters, especially on amendments to the constitution that was drafted by the military junta. Any amendment requires the support of at least one-third of the Senate in the first and third readings. 

Candidates must be at least 40 years old with at least 10 years of experience and expertise. Importantly, they must not be civil servants or hold any political positions. The Senate will be chosen from 20 professional groups, including legal, justice, agriculture, tourism, and ethnic minorities. The process involves both intra- and inter-group elections through a multi-level voting system, which is divided into district, provincial, and national levels.

The candidates cast votes within their professional bloc at the district level. The top 5 candidates from each bloc will be randomly arranged into cross-professional groups. They then cast votes for candidates from different professions in the same group and shortlist the top 3 candidates from each group to compete at the provincial level, where the process is repeated. The top 2 candidates will proceed to the next level. At the national level, the top 40 candidates from each bloc will participate in an inter-group election. The top 10 candidates from each 20 professional blocs will become senators. 

While many critics have commented this Senate election is the most complicated in the world, Sawang Boonmee, Secretary-General of the Election Commission (EC), agreed with the complaints that the Senate election process is complicated, but said that the EC must comply with the law and also try to involve the general public in this election. 

Pannika Wanich, the Progressive Movement’s spokesperson, noted that selecting the Senate from these 20 professional groups is not practical as not every district, such as those in Bangkok, has representatives from farming or fisheries professional groups. 

Meanwhile, a former Election Commissioner, Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, said that it is not only the election process that is problematic, but also the procedure on the election dates, when the general public is not eligible to vote nor observe the election. Only officials and candidates can enter the venues.

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