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Candidates are beginning to register in a complicated process to select Thailand’s new Senate

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand officially began selecting new senators Monday, a process that has become part of an ongoing war between progressive forces hoping for democratic political reforms and conservatives seeking to maintain the status quo.

Hopeful candidates headed to district offices across the country on the first day of registration to contest for one of the 200 seats in the Upper House of Parliament.

The power of the Senate – while limited compared to the House of Representatives, which is charged with legislative responsibilities – was dramatically demonstrated when it prevented the progressive party that won the most seats in last year’s elections from forming a new government to shape.

The senators were able to do this thanks to the 2017 constitution, adopted under a military government, which requires the prime minister to be approved by a joint vote of the elected House and Senate, which is appointed by the military regime.

The Move Forward party was opposed by senators who denounced its pledge to pursue reforms to the Thai monarchy.

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The process for selecting the new senators includes three rounds of voting: district, provincial and national.

Unlike the elected lawmakers of the House of Commons, senators will be chosen by their fellow candidates, competing in 20 categories such as profession or social position, including women, the elderly and the disabled.

The final results are expected to be announced in July.

The Constitution’s selection process is so complicated and unclear that critics say it is deliberately designed to discourage public participation. Critics say the constitution also gives the state bureaucracy more power than directly elected political office holders.

The new senators will no longer be able to participate in the election of a prime minister, but will retain the power to approve legislation passed by the House.

They also have the power to select members of nominally independent regulatory bodies, such as the Election Commission and the Constitutional Court, whose work is widely seen as hampering efforts at political reform and crippling advocates with legal penalties, including prison terms.

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The votes of the Senate are also required to amend the Constitution. The ruling Pheu Thai Party is pushing for a new charter to replace the 2017 charter to facilitate some reform efforts promised during the campaign.

Civil society groups have campaigned to raise public awareness and encourage those in favor of democratic reforms to participate in the Senate selection process.

Law reform advocate Yingcheep Atchanont of the group iLaw organizes public discussions on the importance of the Senate and workshops to help potential applicants understand how the selection process works.

“We tell people what to do if they want change. There have been calls in recent years to reduce the power of the Senate, to get rid of the Senate,” he said. “All this can only happen if we can change the Constitution, and for that we need enough votes from the senators. .”

Candidates must be over 40 years old and have more than 10 years of experience in their chosen profession; this latter provision does not apply to those who compete in any of the social identity groups. They also cannot run a campaign or do anything that could be interpreted as a campaign.

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Even the Election Commission has acknowledged how complicated the process is, but says it will be able to carry it out smoothly and transparently.

Purawich Watanasukh, a political science lecturer at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said he thinks the complicated rules are deliberately designed to reduce public participation.

“This is the people’s struggle to debug not only the Senate itself, but also the Constitution, which would lead to a new political landscape in Thailand,” he said. “It will be the next battleground between the progressive movement and the establishment. .”

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Associated Press video journalist Jerry Harmer contributed to this report.

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