Potential candidates to become members of Thailand's next Senate arrive...

Potential candidates to become members of Thailand's next Senate arrive at the Phaya Thai district office in Bangkok, on May 20, 2024. Thailand’s Election Commission has officially certified the winners of the contest to seat the 200 new members of the Senate, who will replace the 250 military-appointed members who have served in the body since 2019, even though official complaints about the process are still pending. Credit: AP/Sakchai Lalit

BANGKOK — Thailand’s Election Commission on Wednesday officially certified the 200 newly elected senators who will replace the 250 military-appointed members who have served in the upper chamber since 2019, even though official complaints about the process are still pending.

The new Senate, whose first session has not yet been set, loses one of most significant powers -- the right to vote along with the House of Representatives in approving the appointment of a prime minister.

That aspect was dramatically demonstrated last year when the senators, overwhelmingly conservative, blocked the progressive Move Forward party, which won the most seats in the general election, from forming a new government.

The process of electing a new Senate, whose term ended in May, became controversial because the regulations for the contest were officially issued only this year and there were complaints they were convoluted and involved minimal public input.

Candidates nominated themselves by paying a modest registration fee, and applied to compete in one of 20 categories, sorted by occupation or social position, such as women, the elderly and the disabled. They then advanced through three rounds of voting.

The Election Commission was originally scheduled to endorse the results on July 3 but postponed certifications several times after receiving many complaints alleging candidates misrepresented their qualifications. The final round of voting was on June 26.

The new Senate appears to remain a conservative body, though less so than the previous one dominated by the military.

Critics said the voting process lacked transparency, leaving it open to abuses such as vote-buying. Questions were also raised whether the Election Commission had properly vetted the candidates’ qualifications.

Election Commission Secretary-General Sawang Boonmee said his office needs more time to investigate over 800 complaints. He said the commission voted to certify the results because “at this point, we cannot say that the voting was not free and fair.”

The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, is not a law-making body but its approval is needed for legislation to become law.

It also has the power to select for royal appointment the members of nominally independent regulatory bodies such as the Election Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, whose work has been widely seen as impeding efforts at political reform and sometimes punishing its proponents with legal penalties, including prison.

The Senate’s votes are also required to amend the constitution. The governing Pheu Thai party, which took power last year, is pushing for a new charter to replace the 2017 one in order to facilitate several reforms promised during the campaign.

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