Fear over who the people will choose and independent SenatorsBy Bangkok Pundit Aug 21, 2013 10:00AM UTC
Veera in the Bangkok Post:
As public attention is diverted to the much-hyped political reform forum, the government is attempting to amend the charter to transform the Senate into yet another tool to fulfill its ambition of complete control of parliament.
If everything goes according to the Pheu Thai-led government’s plan, we may have a new fully elected Senate in which most members will either be the wives or husbands, sons or fathers of the MPs in the House of Representatives.
Cynics have labelled this type of legislature a “husband-and-wife” parliament, and it seems to be unique to Thailand — and a definite part of the government’s political reform roadmap.
But the “husband-and-wife” parliament and the attempt to neutralise the independent organisations and the judiciary are possible scenarios if the government is successful in making changes to the makeup of the membership of the Senate and in writing a new charter under the guise of a political reform forum.
Thailand’s parliamentary system may plunge to a new low and the winner of the next election or, at least, the Senate election, will not be just any winner, but the winner who will take all.
It will not be smooth sailing for the government. There still remains the main stumbling block, which is the Constitution Court — which will be the last resort of the opposition Democrats and the anti-Thaksin camp in the Senate to block the charter amendment bill.
The 2007 Constitution on what qualifications are required to be a Senator:
Section 115. A person having the qualifications and having no any of the prohibitions as mentioned below has the right to be a candidate in an election or selection of senators:
(1) being of Thai nationality by birth;
(2) being of not less than forty years of age on the election day or the date of nomination;
(3) having graduated with not lower than a Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent;
(4) a candidate in an election of senators shall also possess any of the following qualifications:
(a) having his name appear on the house register in Changwat where he stands for election for a consecutive period of not less than five years up to the date of applying for candidacy;
(b) being born in Changwat where he stands for election;
(c) having studied in an education institution situated in Changwat where he stands for election for a consecutive period of not less than five academic years;
(d) having served in the official service or having had his name appear in the house register in Changwat where he stands for election for a consecutive period of not less than five years;
(5) not being ascendants, spouse or child of a member of the House of Representatives or a person holding a political position;
(6) not being a member or a person holding any position in a political party, or having been a member or having been holding a position in a political party and his membership has terminated or he vacates office in a political party for a period of not more than five years on the date of applying for candidacy or the date of nomination;
(7) being disfranchised under section 102 (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (11), (12), (13) or (14);
(8) not being a Minister or a person holding a political position other than a member of a local assembly or a local administrator or vacating office for a period of not more than five years.
Section 116. A senator shall not be a Minister or a person holding any political position or a person holding position in the independent constitutional organisation.
The person having held office of senator with membership having terminated for not more than two years shall not be a Minister or a person holding any political position.
BP: As BP understands it, the proposed amendment will change remove (5) and remove the restriction in (6). BP thinks you can have legitimate debate over exactly what qualifications are required to be a Senator – particularly over connection with the Province in question – but there is this obsession in trying to control and have so many hoops for a Senator to jump through. Veera is concerned that we may get husbands or wives as Senators and this will mean they won’t be independent. He does wonder whether the anti-Thaksin camp in the Senate can block it by going to the Constitution Court. Veera is not the only one with concerns.
An English translation from the Highlights of the Draft Constitution 2007 from the drafters:
Members of the Senate will be free from the dominance of political parties since they will be selected from provinces and, separately, from occupational groups (Section 106), not through election which is prone to political meddling. With the proposed selection process, Thai politics will cease to be the exclusive preserve of elected politicians, but will belong to the people from diverse backgrounds, areas, occupations, and genders while opening up opportunities to the socially underprivileged as well (Section 108 paragraph two).
BP: Yes, “political meddling” so no need for pesky elections.
The Nation on the view of a Democrat MP:
Pheu Thai Party has joined forces with senators to push for the passage of legislation that would turn the House into a dictatorship and enable the government to “monopolise” power with absolute control in both houses of Parliament, Democrat Party Bangkok MP Ongart Klampaiboon alleged yesterday.
Parliament is today scheduled to deliberate in its second reading a bill that would amend constitutional articles involving the method of electing senators.
Ongart said Pheu Thai’s move to have all senators elected and remove appointed senators would greatly affect the country’s political structure, since the ruling party would easily acquire a parliamentary mandate through a majority.
The Democrat MP said the content of the charter amendments is worse than some provisions of the 1997 Constitution, which was dubbed “Parliament of Slaves”. The new amendments could be dubbed the “Parliament of Dictatorship of the Senate”, Ongart said. The amendment would allow senators who side with people in power to appoint or remove independent agencies, and leave them merely serving those in power
The Nation a few months back:
Ongoing efforts to amend the Constitution to require all senators to be elected are seen as a government plan to control the upper chamber so that no senators – like the current so-called “Group of 40 Senators” – could stand up against it.
However, some members of the Group of 40 have expressed hope that future senators would continue to play the checks-and-balances role, even if they held office through elections.
The ongoing amendments would also allow spouses and children of MPs to contest for senatorial seats. This led to concern that the upper chamber would become a “spouse chamber”, as happened after the enactment of the 1997 charter. Most of all, concern has mounted that there would be no more independent groups like the Group of 40 Senators.
The Group of 40 Senators is seen as always opposing the plans of supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Thaksin side regards the group as its enemy. The group once asked the Constitutional Court to consider the status of Samak Sundaravej as the prime minister, leading to his disqualification. It also once boycotted the policy statement of then prime minister Somchai Wongsawat.
Rosana Tositrakul, a member of the Group of 40 Senators, said it was formed in 2008 when senators, who were opposed to charter amendments, held a meeting. That day, 40 senators joined the meeting so the group took the name of the Group of 40 Senators. Since then, any member of the group would be referred to by the group’s alias, although he or she might still express personal views.
Since the group was formed, their members have had luncheon meetings every month by using birthdays of group members for the dates for get-togethers. They often discuss current issues. Senator Paibul Nititawan coordinated and scheduled the meetings.
BP: There is this grand idea that by not allowing Senators to be members of political parties within the last 5 years and not being a close relative of a politician that you can somehow get an independent senate.
First, just look at the Group of 40 Senators, who are mostly Appointed Senators. They meet together to plan strategy, put out press statements on what the Group thinks, and act as a voting bloc. They act no different from a political party. They are the establishment’s representatives and because of this they are viewed as “independent”.
Second, there is this fear of majority rule, or the tyranny of the majority, but no concern over the tyranny of the minority who exercise significant control. What they also fail to understand is that the organizations they place their faith in (judiciary and independent organizations) also operate on a majority rule. When decisions are handed down by these independent organizations or the judiciary, they also vote, and the result is decided how? By taking the views of the minority? Or those of the majority? It is the majority of course. This is how decisions are made. The question then becomes, the majority of who? The majority of unelected group or the majority of an elected group. See this post for more on this argument.
Third, the current system is the Appointed Senators are appointed by a President of the Constitutional Court, the Chairperson of the Election Commission, the President of the Ombudsmen, the Chairperson of the National Counter Corruption Commission, the Chairperson of the State Audit Commission, and a judge of the Supreme Court (Section 113 of the Constitution). The Senate then chooses the judiciary and the independent organizations.
Thitinan in 2007 noted ( cache ):
A seven-member panel comprising the heads of two state agencies, anti-graft and election commissions along with three courts are to vet the senatorial appointments.
In turn, the Senate is tasked with endorsing the nomination and selection of the most senior members of these agencies. Such an arrangement may lead to quid-pro-quo outcomes and collusion in high places.
BP: These unelected guardians are meant to be pure and just, but they take sides and vote together in blocs as well. The only different is that if you don’t like what they do is that you can’t vote them out. You can’t even vote the people who choose them out of office as well. Then again this is what Veera and those who support the establishment fear the most….who the people will choose…
btw, it seems obvious why spouses or other close relatives will win and that is name recognition. In a contested race where the major form of promotion is usually billboards – the candidates won’t be running on party platforms (the role of the Senate also makes policy platforms difficult) and with many candidates it will be difficult for many people to make their minds up who to vote for – it is not surprising that name recognition will play an advantage. Name recognition can be inferred that the person with that name will act person the similar voter knows.