Thailand Senate Election Peaceful Amid Low Voter Turnout

Thai voters went to the polls yesterday to select half of the nation’s Senate, without facing opposition from protesters who derailed a general election on Feb. 2 and have vowed to disrupt any future vote.

All 93,231 polling stations in 77 provinces opened without disruption, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuttiyakorn said. Turnout was “disappointing,” at 43 percent of eligible voters, he said, compared with 46 percent who participated in the Feb. 2 poll, which was threatened by protests, boycotted by the opposition Democrat Party and later annulled by the courts.

“We will take today’s success as a good example for the general election in the future,” Somchai said. “I think it can be a success if the situation is calm, so I ask all parties to cooperate to make the political situation peaceful, which will eventually lead to orderly elections.”

Protesters seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra stopped candidates from registering and blocked polling stations during the Feb. 2 general election, which left the country without a functioning parliament. The commission plans to meet April 1 to discuss plans for a new vote.

“Almost half of the Senate is appointed and most appointed senators are broadly in the pro-Democrat camp, so the traditional establishment has been able to exercise much more influence over the Senate,” Duncan McCargo, a professor of political science at the University of Leeds and senior research affiliate at Columbia University, said before the vote.

‘No’ Vote

Yesterday’s election was to select 77 members of the half-appointed upper house. About 20.9 million of 48.8 million eligible voters cast ballots, accord to the Election Commission. About 12 percent voted “no,” declining to choose a candidate, EC Deputy Secretary-General Somsak Suriyamongkol said today.

About 29 percent of eligible voters took part in Bangkok, where former auditor general Jaruwan Maintaka was elected.

The remaining senators are chosen by a committee that includes the heads of the EC, Constitutional Court, National Anti-Corruption Commission, State Audit Commission and a representative of the Supreme Court.

The government has clashed with these so-called independent agencies in recent months, with the Constitutional Court ruling against a bid to change the Senate into a fully elected body and halting an infrastructure spending plan. The NACC is investigating at least 15 cases against Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai Party, and the party accused the EC of undermining the February election.

NACC Appearance

Yingluck appeared before the NACC today to defend herself against charges of dereliction of duty for her role overseeing a rice subsidy program. Yingluck asked the NACC to allow her to submit additional evidence and call more witnesses.

The NACC could choose to indict the premier, and recommend the Senate move to impeach her. Thailand spent 689 billion baht ($21 billion) in the past two years buying rice from farmers to boost rural incomes, and has struggled to make payments under the program since dissolving parliament in December.

The premier last week criticized the NACC for not giving her enough time to gather evidence, and questioned why the case is proceeding so quickly when “progress has not been made in any of the cases made against the previous government.”

Ministers in Yingluck’s government have warned in recent months that her opponents are pursuing a so-called judicial coup, after street protests failed to topple her.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters began street rallies in late October, calling for Yingluck to quit and allow electoral rules to be rewritten to erase the political dominance of her family. They accuse the ruling Pheu Thai party of buying votes with damaging populist policies. Parties linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra have won the past five elections, including the 2011 poll that brought his sister to power.

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