Opposition slams senate for blocking PM-election reforms

The opposition condemned senators Friday for shooting down an attempt to reform their influence over the election of prime ministers, calling the senate “lacking sincerity” and “a hindrance to prosperity.”

The senate late Thursday voted against a move to remove the body from votes for prime minister, after a six-hour debate. Such a change would have required the support of at least one third of the upper house as well as an overall majority across both houses.

Currently the 250 government-appointed senators vote alongside the 500 members of the lower house for the position of premier. Critics say this cements the ruling party’s grip on power.

But another amendment put forward by the Democrat Party was accepted, namely the proposal to return to a two-ballot system, and to increase the number of constituent seats from 350 seats to 400 and decrease party list MPs from 150 to 100.

A single ballot forces citizens to choose the same party for both their constituency representative and their party-list preference. Two ballots allow voters to support different parties for the constituency and for the party list, if they wish.

Opposition parliamentarians expressed anger at the senate’s blocking of the first proposal.

“Last night’s vote shows that parliament is a drama theater that lacks sincerity towards the people,” said Bencha Saengchan of the Move Forward Party.

“We can see that the true purpose of the senate is to prevent any changes and to be a hinderance to the prosperity of the country,” said Pheu Thai Party Deputy Leader Pichai Naripthaphan.

Both Bencha and Pichai said the main purpose of the reform was to remove the senate’s controlling grip on votes for prime minister, and its resistance to the change showed that its true role was to consolidate Prayut’s hold on power.

The vote amounted to a conflict of interest, Pichai told the Thai Enquirer, adding that there is strong public demand to curb the senate’s power.

“The people were told in 2016 that if they allowed the constitution to pass they would quickly get elections,” Pichai said. “But censorship prevented a proper debate before the referendum, and people are only now realizing what they voted for.”

The two opposition parties had different views of the section of the reform that did pass.

“The two-ballot system is a better representation of the will of the people,” Pichai said. “It is also better to prevent cheating, because the last election there was only one ballot and [the party list] was then based on calculations by the Election Commission.”

But Bench said the proposal did not go far enough to resolve fundamental problems.

 “The problem is that if the proposed charter passes the second and third hearing, we will be unable to amend other parts of the electoral system that also need changing,” she said.

“By only amending parts of the electoral system, we will have a hybrid constitution which will share an election system of the 1997 and 2016 constitution, which will be very problematic.” The 1997 constitution used a two-ballot system for general elections.

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